Book 3 - Chapter 2: Of the Oneness of the Covenant of Grace, as to its Substance - 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 II: Of the ONENESS of the Covenant of Grace, as to its Substance
I. IT is a matter of the greatest moment, that we learn distinctly to consider the covenant of grace, either as it is in its substance or essence, as they call it, or as it is in diverse ways proposed by God, with respect to circumstantials, under different economies. If we view the substance of the covenant, it is but only one, nor is it possible it should be otherwise. There is no other way worthy of God, in which salvation can be bestowed on sinners, but that discovered in the Gospel. Whence the apostle, Gal. 1:7, has beautifully said, “which is not another.” And that testament which was consecrated by the blood of Christ, he calls “everlasting,” Heb. 13:20, because it was settled from eternity, published immediately upon the fall of the first man, constantly handed down by the ancients, more fully explained by Christ himself and his apostles, and is to continue throughout all ages, and, in virtue of which, believers shall inherit eternal happiness. But if we attend to the circumstances of the covenant, it was dispensed “at sundry times and in divers manners,” under various economies for the manifestation of the manifold wisdom of God. In considering this, we are first to discourse on those general things which appertain to the substance of the covenant, and have continued in every age; and then explain the different economies or dispensations, and the new accessions made to each; which we will, first, do in a general and concise manner, in this and the following Chapter; then gradually descend to the more special considerations.
II. We therefore maintain, agreeable to the sacred writings, that to all the Elect, living in any period of time: 1st, One and the same eternal life was promised. 2dly, That Jesus Christ was held forth as the one and the same author and bestower of salvation. 3dly, That they could not become partakers of it any other way, but by a true and lively faith in him. If we demonstrate these three things, none can any longer doubt, but that the covenant of grace must be, as to its substance, only one from the beginning. For, if the salvation be the same, and the author of it the same, the manner of communion with him the same, it is certain, the covenant itself cannot be more than one.
III. The Scriptures so plainly declare, that eternal life was promised to the Elect from the beginning, that if is astonishing any Christians could venture to deny it; who, indeed, are much blinder than the Jews themselves; of whom our Lord testifies, John 5:39. “Ye do search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life:” and that they were neither rash nor erroneous in thinking that the promises of eternal life, and the manner of enjoying them, were contained in the Scriptures they had, we prove by the most cogent arguments. 1st, Because, not only the Lord Jesus does not charge them, in this respect, with the least error, but makes use of that as a reason to recommend to them the search of the Scriptures. But it is very inconsistent with the great sincerity of the Lord Jesus, and the divine dignity of the Scriptures, to recommend them by arguments not genuine, or to recommend their value and usefulness from Jewish forgeries. Nay, had the Jews falsely persuaded themselves, that the promises of eternal life were contained in the Old Testament records, our Lord ought not, by any concession, to have cherished that mistake, which would have hindered them from acknowledging the excellence of his doctrine, and consequently the divinity of his person; but rather to have exclaimed against them: “In vain do you search the Scriptures, in hopes of finding eternal life in them; attend rather to me and my doctrine, who am the first who came into the world as a preacher of eternal life.” But every one may see how inconsistent this was from the design of the Lord Jesus. 2ndly, To this we add, that Paul’s hope was founded on the Law and the Prophets, as well as the expectation of the Jews, Acts 24:14, 15, “Believing all things, which are written in the Law and the Prophets; and have hope towards God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.” He testifies, that the Jews expected a resurrection of the dead; he professes the same belief and hope with them; and that he did not do so out of a vain presumption, but from a faith resting on the Law and the Prophets, which they also, in their manner, carefully read, and from which they had derived the same expectation with him. 3dly, The Jews were so far from judging amiss in this respect, that, on the contrary, the Lord Jesus reproved the Sadducees, as ignorant of the Scriptures, because from them they had not learned life eternal and the resurrection, Matt. 22:29.
IV. But let us argue from the very books of the Old Testament: and first, after the example of our Lord, who, Matt. 22:31, 32, speaks to this purpose: “But, as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” This inference appeared so evident to the multitude, that they were astonished at his doctrine, and the Sadducees were put to silence, ver. 33, 34. And, indeed, if the words of Moses, quoted by Christ, be accurately weighed, the evidence of this argument will easily appear to the attentive reader.
V. For, 1st, That expression, to be God to any, in its full import, includes life eternal, For, when God becomes the sinner’s God, he then becomes to him what he is to himself. But, what is he to himself? Doubtless, the fountain of eternal and complete blessedness. When God, out of his grace, gives himself to man, he gives him all things; for himself is all things. Such a man finds in God “a shield” against every evil, and an “exceeding great reward,” Gen. 15:1. And what can he desire more in order to his perfect happiness? Accordingly, the apostle joins these two, Heb. 11:16, God to be the God of any one, and to have prepared for them a city. And seeing the “gifts” of God’s grace, especially when he gives himself, “are without repentance”, Rom. 11:29; hereby also the eternity of this happiness is established.
VI. 2ndly, Moreover, this covenant is not made with the soul, but with the man; and God not only requires the worship of the soul, but also the submission of the body, as redeemer of both, in order to his being glorified in both: accordingly he appointed a sign of his covenant to be in the body, Gen. 17:13. And consequently, when he calls himself the God of the whole man, he promises his salvation, not to the soul alone, but to the body also.
VII. 3dly, These considerations will be more cogent, if we reflect, that the words from which our Lord argues were spoken of the Patriarchs, who had been dead long before, Exod. 3:6. But as God is not the God of persons who have no existence, it was first evident, that their souls survived, and enjoyed the beatific vision of God; and since, as we have just said, their bodies also were comprehended in the covenant, it followed, that, at the appointed time, their very bodies, when raised from the dust, should be reunited to their souls, in order to partake of the same happiness.
VIII. 4thly, To be the God of any one, signifies, in the usual style of Scripture, deliverance from enemies; compare Psa. 3:7, 8. But death is our greatest and last enemy, 1 Cor. 15:26. As therefore God delivers those, whose God he is, out of the hand of their enemies, he cannot be the God of those who always remain under the power of death; but all who have him for their God, must, after death is swallowed up, exultingly sing that song of triumph, “O death! where is thy victory?”
IX. 5thly, It is beyond all controversy, that God promised to those illustrious patriarchs, when he called himself their God, something highly excellent, and by which they were to be peculiarly distinguished above others, who were not so eminent in the service of God. But they obtained nothing so very distinguishing above other men, in this world, that could equal the greatness of this promise. Many wicked men lived more happily in the land of Canaan, and elsewhere. It follows, then, that these things regard concerns of a superior nature, and belong to eternal life in heaven.
X. 6thly and lastly, If we are benefactors to any here, for the sake of another, we will much more do good to him, on whose account we do good to them, if it is in our power. But God wants no power. And he declares he will be a benefactor to the posterity, for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; much more, then, he is and will be a benefactor to themselves. But they could not be capable of receiving any good, if they did not exist; nor of the highest benefit, if they were for ever to be under the power and dominion of death. It therefore follows, that, when these words were spoken, their souls were in being, and at the time appointed, were to be restored to life, that God, in a distinguishing manner, might be their benefactor. All these things follow from the words of Moses by an easy consequence.
XI. What Volkelius says is to no purpose, when, being pinched by this passage, he requires us, lib. iii. c. 11, to produce testimonies, in which this benefit is promised to us [viz. in the Old] in as clear and evident terms as in the New Testament; for he denies that the passage we are now treating of can on any account be of that number, as appears from this, that, “before Christ explained it, none ever ventured so much as to suspect it contained any such thing. Nor is it credible that the Pharisees, who were very well skilled in the divine law, and who, as it seems, frequently and warmly disputed with the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead, would have passed over this place in silence, if they had imagined it to contain a testimony to that purpose.”
XII. All this is trifling, for, 1st, The question is not whether the testimonies concerning eternal life are expressed in such plain and clear words in the Old Testament as in the New, which none of us affirm, who own that these economies differ exceedingly in the degrees of their clearness; but whether any testimonies at all concerning eternal life are to be found in the Old Testament, which the heretics obstinately deny. For Volkelius, at the beginning of the same Chapter, says, “It appears that that promise of eternal life was [not at all] made in that old covenant.” How unfair then is it, to require us to produce such plain and clear testimonies!
XIII. 2dly, He is of a different opinion from Christ, in commending the Pharisees for being very skilful in the divine law, for he reproves them, Matt. 23:16, 17, as “blind and foolish guides,” and charges them with taking away the key of knowledge, Luke 11:52; and of them Paul testified, “a veil was upon their heart, that in reading Moses and the Old Testament, they did not understand.” 2 Cor. 3:14, 15.
XIV. 3dly, And we are little concerned after what manner or from what topics they formed their arguments; since it appears that Christ, which impudence itself will not dare to deny, reasoned judiciously. Nor will our adversary be able, in any manner, to show that they never argued from this passage; for who has given us a history of all their disputations?
XV. 4thly, Whatever it be with the Pharisees, certainly Philo, an ancient Jew, seems to have had something like this in his mind; whose words the illustrious Grotius, a name no ways unacceptable to our adversaries, adduces in his commentaries on Matt. 22:32, to this purpose: “To say, that God is eternal, is the same as to say, he is one who bestows grace, not at some certain times only, but incessantly at all times.” The celebrated Lightfoot, in his Specilegia in Exodum, sect. 5, has observed, that our Lord’s argument would appear with greater evidence, if compared with the mind and doctrine of the Jews. For Rabbi Simeon Ben Jochai said, “The blessed and holy God does not put his name on the righteous who are alive, but on those who are dead. As it is said, Psa. 16:3: ‘To the saints that are in the earth.’ When are they saints? When they are laid in the earth. For the holy and blessed God does not put his name upon them all the days they live. Why so? Because the holy and blessed God does not confide in them, as if they could not be turned away from the right path by evil affections; but when they are dead, the holy and blessed God puts his name upon them.” See Tanchum on Gen. 28 and Menachem on Exod. 3; which comes to this purpose, that God, in a far more excellent manner, is said to be the God of those who are dead, than of those who still live in the mortal body. And what reason can possibly be assigned for this, but that the separate soul enjoys a more excellent life? Aben Ezra, among the moderns, had the same view of this, who, on Levit. 18:4, explains those words, “I am the Lord thy God,” as containing a promise of life in both worlds. And Manasseh Ben Israel, de resurrect. Mortuor. lib. i, c. 10, uses our Lord’s very argument.
XVI. What can be more evident than that testimony by which the apostle, Heb. 11:10, recommends the faith of Abraham? “He looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God:” adding the other patriarchs; “for they that say such things, declare plainly that they seek a country,” v. 14: “but now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly,” v. 16. The perverting of these things to a bare expectation and a vain persuasion, “founded only on conjectures,” as Smalcius expresses it, does an injury to these pious heroes, and contradicts Paul, who, in this respect, celebrates their faith. But it would not have been a faith founded on the word of God alone, but a culpable temerity, to hope for so great things to themselves without a promise from God. Franzius, Disput. 7. Thes. 55, uses here a most excellent climax or gradation. “How could they have hoped had they not believed? How could they have believed what they had not heard? How could they have heard, unless it had been preached to them? But how could any have preached to them had not God sent them for that purpose, and expressly commanded them to preach this very thing?” As the apostle of the Gentiles, Rom. 10 argues in a like case.
XVII. But lest they should cavil, that we borrow our arguments only from the New Testament (though none can better instruct us in the contents of the Old Testament than Christ and his apostles), we shall consider some passages of the Old Testament, and free them from the misconstructions of our adversaries. And, first, we have that swanlike song of Jacob, Gen. 49:18. לישועתך קויתי יהוה “I wait for thy salvation, O Lord.” The aged Prophet was now at the point of death; and, being full of the Spirit of God, he, in the midst of his prophecies, in which he foretels what was to befall his children and latest posterity, breaks out into these words; which were not spoken without the Spirit of God, so as, with Smalcius, to be referred to a vain persuasion, nor possibly to be wrested to any other but this spiritual and eternal salvation.
XVIII. Here, again, let a certain Jew put the followers of Socinus, if possible, to the blush: in opposition to whom we produce this paraphrase of the Jerusalem Targumist. “Our father Jacob said, My soul does not expect the redemption of Gideon, the son of Joaz, that being only momentary; nor the redemption of Samson, because a transient redemption; but the redemption thou hast mentioned in thy word, or by thy word, which is to come to thy people, the children of Israel; my soul, I say, expects this thy redemption.” Is not this a very clear testimony of the most certain persuasion and the fullest assurance of their salvation?
XIX. Nor must we omit the celebrated passage of Job 19:25, 26, 27; where, in very clear terms, he declares his belief of a future resurrection: For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he will stand at the latter day [over the dust] upon the earth. And though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another, though my reins be consumed within me.” On this confession of faith, I would make the following remarks.
XX. 1st, That it is something very great that Job here treats of, appears both from the sacred loftiness and majesty of the style, and the preface with which he ushers them in; namely, his earnest desire that these his words might be written “and printed in a book, and graven with an iron pen and lead, in the rock for ever.” And nothing was more becoming such a desire than the profession of his faith in the Messiah, and his hope of a blessed resurrection.
XXI. 2ndly, Job clears his innocence against the accusations of his friends, who condemned him as “a wicked person,” and one “who did not acknowledge the strong God,” Job 18:21. “I am so far (says he) from being such as you reproachfully represent me, that, on the contrary, I am fully possessed of the hope of the righteous, and know both God and my redeemer, and expect greater blessings at his hands than all the things of this world can possibly afford.” This, indeed, was far more powerful to silence the accusations of his friends, than if he had spoken of some extraordinary happiness in this life.
XXII. 3rdly, He speaks of a thing he was certain of, and which therefore ought to be built on the infallible promise of God. But it does not appear any promise was made him of being restored in this life to his former state. Nor are there any general promises, from which this could be certainly concluded. Nay, there are not a few things which persuade us that Job had such expectation; for he wishes, ch. 6:1, 9, 11; and 7:7, 8, “that it would please God to grant him the thing he longed for,” that is, death, and to destroy him. For says he, “what is my strength, that I should hope out? or what is mine end, that I should prolong my life?”
XXIII. 4thly, All the words of the text direct us to the blessed resurrection of believers in Christ. He speaks of his נואל goel, who, as the redeemer of believers, and, as Theodotion translates it, their next of kin, had the right of consanguinity to redeem them. He declares that he liveth, being the true God and eternal life, 1 John 5:20. And who has taught us to reason from his life to our own, John 14:19. “Because I live, ye shall live also.” Though he was really once to die, nevertheless he says, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold! I am alive for evermore,” Rev. 1:18. And this is what Job adds, “He shall stand at the latter day, upon the earth [over the dust].” After having triumphed over all his enemies, he will manifest himself in the field of battle, both alive and a conqueror; or, he shall stand upon the earth, or over the dust, the receptacle of death, as an enemy prostrate under his feet, as 1 Cor. 15:26, 27: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet.” He considered this resurrection of Christ as an earnest of his own. “And though, after my skin, worms destroy this body (which he pointed to with his finger), yet in my flesh shall I see God,” namely, that “great God and Saviour Jesus Christ,” at that time to be manifested in his glory, 1 John 3:2; whom he was to see “for himself,” for his own salvation and Consummate joy, in like manner also as David foretold, Psa. 17:15: “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.” This vision, therefore, was different from that of which he speaks Chap. 42:5, 6; which affected him with grief, and humbled him to dust and ashes. Nor was it possible, but such a firm hope of so great happiness must excite an ardent longing after the enjoyment of it. And this is what he adds, “my reins are consumed (that is, are wasted and languish through my longing; see the signification of this word כלה Psa. 84:2, 119:81) within me.” In the same manner, also, as the apostle ardently longed to “know the power of Christ’s resurrection; if by any means he might attain unto the resurrection of the dead,” Phil. 3:10, 11. All these things most exactly agree with Job’s design, with the force and magnificence of the style, with the whole tenour of Scripture, and, were it not for prejudices, could never be perverted to any other meaning.
XXIV. We therefore conclude in the words of Jerome to Pammachius, concerning the error of John of Jerusalem. “What is more evident than this prophecy? None after Christ speaks so plainly of the resurrection, as he before Christ.”
XXV. Let us subjoin the prophecy of Daniel, 12:2. “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. On this place I observe these following things: 1st, That a general resurrection of all, and among these of the righteous, to life eternal, can scarcely be described in more evident terms. Indeed, under the New Testament, the Lord Jesus, speaking of this very mystery, uses almost the very same words, John 5:28, 29. I appeal to any conscience, had Daniel been appointed to prophecy of the resurrection of the dead, whether he could have described it in clearer language?
XXVI. 2dly, It is no objection, that Daniel says, many of them that sleep shall be raised. For, not to mention that many sometimes signifies the same thing as all (as Rom. 5:15, compared with 12) it is evident, that Daniel divides the whole collective body of those that sleep in the dust of the earth into two classes, one of which shall rise again to life, the other to shame.
XXVII. 3dly, And this most august prophecy cannot be explained to signify nothing but a temporal and corporal deliverance from the oppression of Antiochus. For how did transgressors rise out of the dust after Antiochus, seeing they were then rather dead, and rendered contemptible? For, during the life of Antiochus, they even flourished. And how were the pious and persevering delivered to eternal life, for they all doubtless died again? Will you affirm, with Volkelius, that this is to be understood of those who constantly adhered to the law of God, and to whom that deliverance was to turn to an eternal glory? Then, I say, we have an evident promise of eternal life in the books of the Old Testament: which is what we contend for. But if we allow eternal glory to have been promised to them, why not, too, the resurrection of the dead, which precedes consummate glory?
XXVIII. 4thly, Nor ought it to be urged, that these things agree not with the time of which Daniel prophesied, namely, the tyranny of Antiochus, and the deliverance therefrom. For should we grant that Daniel speaks, in the verses immediately preceding, of Antiochus, yet it does not follow that he could not in this speak of the resurrection of the dead; for the prophet was here showing that God, after having displayed so illustrious an instance of his glorious power, would proceed in the extraordinary deliverances of his people, till all should terminate in the happy resurrection of the dead. If you insist, that the things here foretold were to exist at that time about which he had hitherto been speaking, I answer, first, that this is not in the text. This verse, indeed, is connected with the foregoing by the particle, ו and, where the words concerning that time are found. But nothing is more frequent in the prophets, than thus to join two things, which are to exist at very different times: of which we have unexceptionable instances, Matt. 24. It has likewise been observed by very learned men, that the particle ו sometimes signifies at length, or afterwards. Secondly, it may also be said, that בעת ההיא denotes after that time: as Jos. 5:5, בצאתם signifies, after they came forth. And the promise of the resurrection ought not to be thought a thing foreign to the times of Antiochus; because it is certain that they who continued stedfast in the ways of piety might comfort themselves by that hope, under all their dreadful torments, as may be seen, 2 Maccab. 7:6, 11, 14, and Heb. 11:34.
XXIX. But nothing hinders us, with very excellent expositors, to refer the things which Daniel prophesies of towards the close of the Chapter to the New Testament Antichrist, or to the Roman emperors, subservient to Antichrist, in promoting the mystery of iniquity. Cunradus Graserus has very learnedly handled this sentiment in a peculiar treatise. And thus the resurrection of the dead would be joined with the destruction of Antichrist, as is likewise done, Rev. 20:10, 13.
XXX. This being the case, we may justly be surprised that a person, in other respects very learned and orthodox in the main of this inquiry, could not find the general resurrection of the just, in the second verse, when he could find, in the first, the war of the English with the Dutch, of the Danes with the Swedes, of the Tartars in China, of the Chinese in Florida, of the Portuguese with the Castilians, and a great many other things of a modern date. But let these things suffice to show that, even under the Old Testament, eternal life was promised to believers.
XXXI. Our writers have distinctly answered whatever heretics have advanced to the contrary. The whole comes to this: when the apostle, Heb. 8:6, calls the promises of the New Testament better, that may be understood in various respects; if referred to eternal life, it does not regard so much the thing promised, as the plainness and certainty of the promise, which is not now wrapt up in certain obscure words, shadows, and ceremonies, but distinctly proposed; does not depend on some uncertain condition, but, in the fullest manner, is confirmed by the blood of the testator, as the apostle himself suggests, ver. 9, 10.
XXXII. When it is said, 2 Tim. 1:10, that “Christ hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel,” it cannot be understood of the first promise of eternal life, unless any shall say, that it was not made before the resurrection of Christ, which is what is here spoken of. But none will say so. The plain meaning is, that the Lord Jesus, being risen from the dead, showed to the whole world, both Jews and Gentiles to whom the Gospel was preached, that he was the true author of life and immortality; namely, that, on his coming forth out of the grave, the light of this truth was very widely diffused, even among those who before sat in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
XXXIII. When the same apostle affirms that our “salvation at the first began to be spoken by the Lord,” Heb. 2:3, it is clear he speaks of the Gospel completed, and of the Messiah, the author of salvation, already exhibited; which Gospel the Lord first published, with respect to the apostles, evangelists, and the other ordinary preachers that followed them. For otherwise who can deny that Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, and Mary the mother of our Lord, and the angels who proclaimed his nativity, and the aged Simeon, and John the Baptist, were preachers of salvation before the Lord? Of the Fathers the apostle himself affirms, that they were ευαγγελισμενοι, gospelized, or that “the Gospel was preached unto them as well as unto us,” Heb. 4:2.
XXXIV. When it is written, Heb. 9:8. “That the way unto the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing;” the apostle indeed intimates, that the manner of obtaining salvation was, in some measure hid, in comparison of the brighter lustre of the Gospel. For then, doubtless, the way to life was clouded with much pomp of ceremonies and figures; which being now dispelled, we behold with open face, and ardently desire, heavenly and spiritual things. But from this it no ways follows, that those under the Old Testament had no knowledge of salvation; any more than it can be concluded, we know nothing of our glorious state, because John says, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be,” John 3:2. We may almost, in the same manner, answer the other objections advanced by our adversaries. But it is no part of our design to examine each in particular.
XXXV. Now let us proceed to the second thing, which we undertook to prove; that in Christ, and in virtue of his suretiship, the fathers of the Old Testament also obtained salvation even as we. Which Peter declares almost in so many words, Acts 15:11: “But we believe that, through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved even as they.” Where the pronoun they is to be referred to the fathers, on whose neck an insupportable yoke of ceremonies was put, as appears both from the grammatical consideration of the gender, from the connexion and the force of the apostles argument. For, since κᾀκεῖνοι is masculine and τα ἔθνα, the Gentiles, mentioned ver. 7, is neuter, it is not so properly referred to the Gentiles as to the fathers. And we are not here, without necessity, to have recourse to an enallage of gender. And then, too, what method of commenting is it, to imagine so wide an hyperbaton or transposition, and to bring from verse 7 a noun, to which, after the interposition of so many other things, a pronoun shall at length answer in eleventh verse, and which yet does not answer; because, in the words immediately preceding, you may find a noun, with which the pronoun in question may be very well joined? In fine, it will either be nonsense, or, very insipid, if the words be so construed. For, what manner of reasoning is it, if we suppose the apostle to have said: “The yoke of ceremonies ought not to be put on the necks of the Gentiles, because, we Jews and apostles believe, that we shall be saved in the same manner as they, by the alone grace of the Lord Jesus Christ?” For besides this, it was improper to propose the Gentiles, to the Jews and apostles, as a pattern of salvation, because it appears, that the contrary should be done; and we could only conclude from that position, that the apostles and Jews were not bound to circumcision, and the other ceremonies, any more than the Gentiles. But that was not the thing in dispute. But according to our interpretation, the apostle argues in the strongest manner: “You ought not to put the yoke of ceremonies on the necks of the disciples, who are converted from among the Gentiles, because the fathers themselves, who were under that yoke, really felt the uneasiness of it, but did not find salvation in it, and yet they were saved, not in consequence of these ceremonies, but by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Neither are we, nor any of the human race, to take any other way to attain salvation. They therefore are under a mistake, who tell the disciples, if you will be saved, you must be circumcised, and keep the law of Moses.” To sum up the whole, then, in short, the apostle here declares three things. 1st, That the fathers were saved. 2dly, By the very same covenant that we are. 3dly, Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: intimating likewise by all this reasoning, that there can possibly be but ONE way of salvation.
XXXVI. This is likewise confirmed by that famous passage, Heb. 13:8, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day and for ever.” In the foregoing verse the apostle admonished them to keep fresh in their memory “the word,” which their guides had spoken unto them, whose faith they should follow. Now, he gives this for the reason of that admonition, because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever;” constantly preached by all the teachers of the truth, believed on by all, and to be believed on by those that come after, if they will imitate the faith of their predecessors. The same doctrine therefore is always to be retained, because Christ, who was always both proposed, and believed, as the author of salvation, changeth not. But the particles, yesterday, to-day, and for ever, denote all the differences of times. Nor does yesterday here signify something of a late date, as we usually say, yesterday or lately; but all the time past: as the phrase to-day denotes the time of grace under the New Testament. For, this is compared to some one present day, as chap. 3:13. “While it is called to-day:” and chap. 4:7. “Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To-day,” &c.; of which 2 Cor. 6:2, “Behold! now is the accepted time, behold! now is the day of salvation.” As, therefore, Christ is to-day, under the New Testament, acknowledged the alone author of salvation, and will be acknowledged as such for ever; so, in like manner, yesterday, under the Old Testament, which day is now past, he was the same, and as such was declared and acknowledged.
XXXVII. Let us also add what we have in Heb. 9:15, “And for this cause he is the mediator of the New Testament, that, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” Where we have an open declaration, that the death of Jesus Christ was effectual for the redemption of transgressions committed under the Old Testament. For thus the apostle proceeds. He supposes that the fathers of the Old Testament were saved, notwithstanding their sins; which Socinus, with his followers, dare not deny. He says further, that the blood of bullocks and of goats, and consequently of all sacrifices whatever, could not really, and before the tribunal of God, expiate sin, and purify the conscience. Yet since, as he declares, without shedding of blood there can be no remission, verse 22, he concludes, it was necessary that the death of Christ should indeed be undergone, in order not only to the establishment of the New Testament, but by virtue of which the redemption of former sins might also be obtained. This is the genuine meaning of the sacred writer.
XXXVIII. And, indeed, Grotius shamefully shuffles, when, to favour the Socinians, he thus writes on this place: “His death intervened for this end, that men might be delivered from those sins, which generally prevailed, before Christ, among those called God’s people.” Is it really so? Would thus “the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament,” denote such an action of Christ, whereby succeeding ages would abstain from the like sins, as were formerly committed? God forbid we should ever pervert Scripture thus. Redemption is כפד an expiation of sin, upon paying a ransom. Christ paid this for all the sins of his elect, at whatever time they lived. And upon the credit of that payment, to be made at the appointed time, believers, even under the Old Testament, obtained redemption.
XXXIX. Moreover, since it is evident that Old Testament saints were saved, it must likewise be evident that they were saved through Christ. For our Saviour himself says, John 14:6: “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” And Peter, Acts 4:12: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Nothing can be plainer than these words, which seem to be written as with a sun-beam. Yet the itch of contradiction has found something to say, but that something is less than nothing.
XL. Our adversaries except, that these passages should be understood of those who live under the New Testament, and therefore that both Christ and Peter speak in the present, and not in the past time; of us, and not of the Old Testament saints; of the times when Christ was exhibited, and not of the Old Testament times. We answer: 1st, As both texts are expressed in universal terms, they are not to be limited without cause and necessity, as there is none in this case. For if salvation could be obtained formerly without Christ, equally as now through Christ, what need had we of Christ’s coming? Or, what so very great matter do we obtain in Christ? 2dly, There are very solid reasons, why they neither ought nor can be thus restricted. Because they who were “without Christ, were strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” Eph. 2:12. 3dly, The quibbling about the verbs being of the present time is idle, because verbs of that time or tense may equally refer to all times. And whatever expression had been used, whether denoting the future or past time, there might always be room left for such cavils. Besides, no reason can be assigned, why the past time should be excluded any more than the future, if that verb of the present tense is thus to be racked. If this is not false reasoning against the Supreme Being, and a childish abuse of one’s genius and parts, what can be called so?
XLI. That which, in the third and last place, we promised to prove, namely, that there is no other means of communion with Christ but faith, appears from that very noted passage of Habakkuk, so often quoted by the apostle, “But the just shall live by his faith,” or the faith of him, namely, of the promised Messiah, Hab. 2:4. From which Paul, at different times, proves our justification, who live under the New Testament, through faith. And then, Moses declares concerning Abraham: “And he believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness,” Gen. 15:6; which the apostle quotes for the same purpose, Rom. 4:3. David likewise declares the man “blessed that putteth his trust in him,” the Son, Psa. 2:12. And Isaiah counsels the sinner to “take hold of the strength of the Lord,” and thus “make peace with him,” Is. 27:5. But what is it to take hold of the fortress of the Lord, but to believe in the Lord? And finally, Paul, by a long enumeration of examples, which he took from the Old Testament fathers, attempts to prove this general truth, Heb. 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
XLII. Our adversaries object, that the passages above mentioned treat only of a general faith in God, and not of a special faith in Christ. We deny not, that as Christ was then more obscurely revealed, so believers had likewise a less distinct knowledge of him; yet we boldly affirm, that they had some knowledge, and sufficient for their time, upon the authority of our Lord, who says, “Abraham saw my day, and rejoiced,” John 8:56, and of Paul, who testifies concerning Moses, Heb. 11:26, “that he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt,” and concerning the other fathers, ver. 13, that “they saw the promises afar off, and embraced them,” and lastly of Peter, who tells us, 1 Pet. 1:11, that the prophets “searched what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified before hand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” Since, then, these things were said of the heroes of that time, it will not be hard to determine, what we are to judge concerning other believers according to their rank and station. And the patriarchs and prophets had not acted the part of honest men, if they had enviously concealed from other believers, such an excellent talent, which was committed to their trust.
XLIII. The apostle writes nothing in opposition to this truth, when he says, Gal. 3:23. “But before faith came, we were kept under the law.” For it is far from the apostle’s intention to deny, that faith in Christ prevailed before his coming in the flesh, because, in the same Chapter, he had highly commended the faith of Abraham, and proposed it as a pattern to us all, ver. 6, 7, 9. But by faith we here understand either the object of faith, the doctrine of the Gospel, as chap. 1:23, and the Lord Jesus himself, believed on in the world, 1 Tim. 3:16, or, the faith of the redemption already actually wrought out, as contradistinguished from the hope of the Old Testament saints, who, with earnest longing, as it were, expected the coming of the Lord, “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” Luke 2:25. And thus we have now shown, that the Old Testament saints had the same promises of eternal life with us, to be obtained by the same Christ, and the same faith in him, and consequently also had the same covenant of grace with us.