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Book 4 - Chapter 1: Of the Doctrine of Salvation in the First Age of the World - 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: Of the Doctrine of Salvation in the First Age of the World

I. WE have thus far considered those benefits, that are essential to the covenant of grace: let us now more particularly take a view of the two ECONOMIES, or the different dispensations, under which that covenant was administered. And here, according to the plan laid down chap. III. of the preceding book, we are more accurately to explain, first, the nature of the Old Testament, and then that of the new. In the old, we will distinctly confider four principal points. I. The doctrine concerning the common salvation, as there laid down. II. The benefits or privileges of that testament. III. Its defects, or according to Paul, Heb. 7:18, “the weakness and unprofitableness thereof,” on account of which that covenant was not faultless, Heb. 8:7. IV. Its abrogation. The doctrine again may be considered, as expressed by words, figured by types, and ratified by sacraments.

II. Divine compassion published to wretched man, immediately upon his fall, the first doctrine of grace; in such a manner, indeed, as in few words, and those almost enigmatical, summarily to contain the whole Gospel; we have that first promise, Gen. 3:14, 15: “And the Lord said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field: upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Luther long ago complained that none of the ancient fathers and bishops, who were men eminent for knowledge and piety, had explained this passage as it deserved: their successors ought to use the greater diligence to do it with the more care, which several learned interpreters have indeed happily effected. Treading in their footsteps, we shall make it appear that the principal articles of the Gospel doctrine are summarily contained in this text.

III. We suppose that the devil is condemned by this sentence, to whom the Lord addresses himself under the appellation of the serpent, because he had abused that animal, in order to deceive man. For, it is dull and trifling to restrict that magnificent speech of the Deity, as if it had its full accomplishment in that animal alone; for besides, that it might seem unbecoming the Supreme Being to address a brute beast, void of all reason, in such pomp of language, many things said here to the serpent, if interpreted literally, are natural to that beast: as “to go upon his belly” and “eat dust.” For we are not to affirm, without Scripture, that the serpent, as the Jews vainly dream, went on feet, or walked erect, or had other food formerly, different from what it has now; nor to imagine, that serpents now feed only on dust, seeing Aristotle reckons them among the παμφαγοι or omnivorous, that eat all kinds of things, and testifies that they eat both flesh and herbs, and “that of all animals, they are fond of the nicest delicacies.” Dust is said to be the serpent’s food, because, since it creeps upon the ground, it cannot but take dust into its mouth along with its other food. Just as David complains in his mourning, that “he ate ashes like bread,” Psa. 102:9, for while he lay on his face in the ashes, he eat the bread that was thrown to him on the ground. Moreover, what is here said of the serpent going on the belly and eating dust, is common to many kinds of worms, as the very learned Bochart has shown, Hierozoic. lib. i. c. 4. But how could that be a curse to the serpent, which is natural to other animals, whom Satan never abused in this manner? And then, its being detestable to man is owing to its dangerous poison, which it also has in common with other beasts, who, after sin, became a horror and dread to man. But some serpents are commended for their philanthropy, or love to men. See Vossius de Origin. Idololat. lib. vi. c. 58: some also are fit to be eaten, and accounted a royal dainty, ibid. c. 62. In a word, it is of no great consequence to man, whether any animal goes on its feet, or on its belly; whether it feeds on herbs, or flesh, or dust. But certain it is that, by this condemnation of the serpent, God intended to comfort our first parents in their wretched estate. To what purpose then is it to interpret the words in such a manner, as to yield very little or no comfort at all to man, who now seriously deplored his own unhappiness?

IV. But the principal consideration is, that the Scripture expressly calls the devil, “ὂφις, the serpent,” 2 Cor. 11:3, and “τον ὄφιν τον αρχαιον the old serpent,” Rev. 12:9: and his defeat is called “the bruising him under our feet,” Rom. 16:10. And though we grant that both these things were primarily and literally said to the animal, the instrument which Satan spoke by; yet it is evident from the nature of the thing, that both might and ought rather to be said to the principal seducer. For, as Chrysostom argues well; if the instrument experienced such a degree of indignation, what punishment can we probably imagine the devil incurred?

V. Nor can it be objected, that what is said to the serpent, all the days of thy life, cannot be applied to Satan, who, it is evident, is an immortal and never-ceasing spirit. For even Satan has a peculiar death reserved for him, namely, the judgment of the last day, in which he, together with death, will be thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, Rev. 20:10. The devil lives when he works effectually in the children of disobedience, and thereby shows himself to be τον κοσμοκρατορα the prince of this world. He shall die, when he will no longer be able to use any of his instruments in or against the kingdom of God. Thus the Lord Jesus “stills the enemy and the avenger,” Psa. 8:2, and “destroys him that had the power of death,” Heb. 2:14. The days, therefore, of the devil’s life are those antecedent to the last judgment: which yields us an useful doctrine, as we shall presently see.

VI. But God was pleased to pronounce those words (the source of all consolation to wretched man), against the devil in the presence and hearing of man. 1st, To mortify that wicked and arrogant spirit, who was constrained to hear his own condemnation, in the presence of such weak feeble creatures, whom he had so easily brought under his power, and over whom he thought to domineer for ever. 2dly, That he might revive and charm our first parents with the sweetest consolations, to whom not only that just vengeance ought to be most acceptable, which God promised to take of their enemy; but who, also in the condemnation of the devil, heard their own absolution. 3dly, To show that this sentence had the nature of a last or unchangeable will. For as God, by a peremptory and irrevocable sentence, condemns, without farther inquiry, the devil, when he was taken in the very fact, which he could neither deny nor transfer to another; so those blessings or privileges, which are made over to the elect in this condemnation of the devil, are made over to them by the last and immutable will of God, which does not depend on any uncertain condition.

VII. Now let us take a more distinct view of the things contained in this sentence. And they are the following: I. The blessings or benefits promised to man. II. The author of those good things. III. Their meritorious cause. IV. The manner of acquisition. V. The heirs. VI. The mean of acquisition.

VIII. The evils which God pronounces against the serpent, are so many benefits or blessings to man; and they are four. The first is, the curse of the serpent, “because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field.” All beasts are subject to destruction: natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, 2 Pet. 2:12. And it is for man’s sin that beasts, as the property of man, are made more miserable: for they cannot be excluded from being a part of this world, which is not willingly subject to vanity, Rom. 8:20, and among them there are those called evil beasts. But the curse threatened against the serpent is such, as renders him inferior to, viler and more miserable than all beasts: importing, 1st. An invincible folly and malice; so that he can neither be wise nor good; worse than a horse or mule, which have no understanding, Psa. 32:9. 2dly, The very worst degree of vileness, whereby he who impiously attempted to be equal to God, and seemed to have acquired a dominion over man, the noblest of God’s creatures, is depressed below the beasts of burden. 3dly, A state of never ending misery. The beast die and perish, and never come into judgment. But the serpent, accursed above the beasts, cannot escape judgment; “everlasting fire is prepared for the devil and his angels,” Matt. 25:41. It could not but be acceptable to man to hear that sentence pronounced, by which that enemy who had made him obnoxious, is himself doomed to be accursed.

IX. The second benefit is the destruction of his power, expressed by three several phrases. The first, “upon the belly shalt thou go;” that is, thou shalt be constrained to creep on the ground, nor suffered any longer to fly at man, twist thyself round him, and kill him with thy envenomed embraces. Pareus says judiciously, “he himself is also forced to creep on his breast; because being once thrown headlong down from heaven, he is now condemned to creep for ever on the ground, amidst earthly filth, nor able any more to raise his head to heaven.” Thus Rev. 12:9, “The judgment of the old serpent, the devil, by which he is now bound fast, is called his casting out into the earth, where, in a hostile manner, he persecutes, but cannot overpower the woman.

X. The other expression, dust shalt thou eat, doubtless denotes a slate of the greatest degradation. For, the Scripture phrase, to lick the dust, is applied to conquered enemies, who lie prostrate at the conqueror’s feet: Psa. 72:6, “His enemies shall lick the dust;” Micah 7:15, “They shall lick the dust like a serpent;” Isa. 49:23, “They shall bow down to thee with their face towards the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet.” But there seems a much greater emphasis in these words, when the serpent is commanded to eat dust; as also when it is said, Isa. 65:25, “and dust shall be the serpent’s meat.” Which, if I mistake not, signifies in general three things. 1st, The restraining the devil’s power to earthly minded men, who are glued to the earth, and seek their good and happiness in earthly things. Those alone he shall be able to devour, without having any right over others. And this tends much to the great benefit of the church. For, when the wicked are devoured by the devil, offences are removed out of the way of righteousness, the church is delivered from their vexations, and Satan’s kingdom diminished in this world. 2dly. As to the elect, it signifies the restricting the power of the devil to their bodies, which on account of sin, is said to be dust, and to return to dust. That body the devil will devour, that is, bring down to death, and keep under the power thereof, till the resurrection: he shall have no power over the souls of the elect. And even that destruction of the dusty body is of benefit to believers: for, at the same time the old man is destroyed, who had hitherto harboured in their members. 3dly. It denotes that wicked pleasure, which the devil takes in drawing the reprobate to sin, and consequently to eternal destruction, and in vexing the godly as much as he can. It was the meat, that is the delight, of the Lord Jesus, to do the will of him that sent him,” and to turn men to God, John 4:34. On the contrary, it is the delight of Satan to push on the wicked to evil, and to vex the beloved children of God; which as it is the greatest wickedness, so also the highest degree of misery.

XI. Least any one should hiss this exposition off the stage, as if it were new and never heard of before, I shall subjoin the comments of Fagius and Pareus. Fagius writes thus: “If we now, as we certainly ought, refer these things to that spiritual serpent, I mean Satan, whom the Hebrews call נחש קדמוני, the old serpent, who acted in the serpent, a brute animal, as in an instrument, they signify that this, our old crafty enemy, who before walked, as it were, in state, is now thrown down and confounded; to eat dust, signifies to consume earthly minded men, who are enslaved to their affections. Satan is a spirit, such therefore must be his food; here are sins to stay his hunger. For, as the serpent creeps on the earth, lives on the earth, broods on the earth; so the disposition of Satan is to entice men to the earth, to hurry them to earthly things, and draw them aside from those that are heavenly.” Thus far, Fagius: from whom Pareus does not greatly differ. His words are these: “He is also condemned to eat earth, that is to feed on the earthly nastiness of vice and wickedness, as the filthy swine feed on excrements. Which that impure spirit does, when he not only pollutes and delights himself with the defilements of the world, as swine with wallowing in the mire; but also plunges the reprobate into the same, and destroys them with himself: this is Satan’s sweetest food. For, wherewith any one is delighted, that he accounts his meat and his pleasure, according to that saying, ‘envy is the best food: again envy feeds on the livings’, &c. Augustine advances no inelegant doctrine, where he says, ‘The sinner is earth; the sinner, therefore, is given up to the devil for food. Let us not be earth, if we would not be devoured by the serpent.’ ” Thus far Pareus. Ambrose, lib. i. de pœnitentia, c. 13, quoted by Rivet, Exerc. xxxv. in Gen. explains dust by the flesh of men, and maintains that the devil is permitted by God to feed on this flesh, that is, to torment and tear the bodies of believers, but not to have any power over the soul.

XII. The third expression by which the destruction of the devil is set forth, is “the bruising his head.” In the head of the serpent are his poison, craft, strength, and life. The head or the serpent, therefore, signifies he crafty subtlety of the devil, his venomous power, and all that tyrannical dominion, which by sin he has acquired over man. The bruising his head is the abolishing of all his power, according to the apostle’s explication, Rom. 16:20: “and the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” The symbol of this bruising was that extraordinary power granted to the disciples of Christ, mentioned Luke 10:19. “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” And Mark 16:18: “they shall take up serpents;” namely, without being hurt, as appears from the history of Paul, Acts 28:5. Which power of depriving serpents of their venom and of bruising their heads without harm, Tertullian, as quoted by Grotius on Luke 10:19, testifies was not quite extinct in his time among Christians. Though the devil imitated this miracle in the temple of Isis in Egypt, as Bochart has remarked from Allian, Hierozoic, lib. i. c. 4, at the close; yet our Lord expressly declares, that the destruction of his kingdom was thereby signified, when, to serpents and scorpions, he adds, “all the power of the enemy.” Thus the devil was constrained, by his juggling tricks and delusions, to give a prelude of his own destruction.

XIII. The third benefit God promises here, is “the putting enmity between the serpent and the woman and her seed:” these words include man’s sanctification. For, when man becomes an enemy to the devil, then he abhors and avoids all intercourse with him, hates and detests his works, endeavours to destroy him and his kingdom in himself and others, and most willingly does what he knows shall mortify the devil. And though the devil on that account wages war against him, because he endeavours after godliness, yet he is so far from suffering himself to be thereby diverted from that which is good, that, on the contrary, he goes on with the greater alacrity to oppose him. While a man continues unsanctified, he cultivates peace with the devil, and calmly submits to his dominion: enmity and hostility against the devil can only proceed from an infused principle of holiness. And this is what God promises to man, when he says, “I will put enmity,” &c.; he not only commands the woman to have no intimacy or friendship with the devil, or to have any commerce with a sworn enemy; nor, by this sanction, did he only again open a door of repentance for our first parents, as Pareus observes on this place; but he also promises, that, by the unsurmountable efficacy of his power, he would perform and bring it about; namely, that he would put that enmity against the devil, which cannot subsist where there is not the love of God. Rivet says well, Exerc. 36. in Gen.: “When a state of enmity is foretold, in the same breath it is also foretold, that men shall return to such soundness of mind, as, displeased with that grievous yoke of Satan’s tyranny to seek the shaking it off, and having once happily succeeded, afterwards to watch by a continual struggle against being entangled therein again.” But fullest of all, Cloppenburgius, Schol. Sacrific. p. 75: “There could have been no enmity between the woman and the devil, without removing, by justification, the enmity with God, which the devil, by his seduction, had brought the woman and her posterity to; and without conquering and subduing, by sanctification, the dominion of sin in the woman. Putting therefore that enmity against the devil, he appoints a covenant of peace and friendship, whereby he promises to the woman the grace of justification and sanctification.”

XIV. The fourth benefit is the resurrection of the body, which was brought to dust by his means who hath the power of death; this is more obscurely intimated, when it is said, “the serpent shall eat dust all the days of his life,” which we have shown, sect. v., to be the days preceding the last judgment. From which we concluded, that the time of the devil’s power, and of his going about to devour, is limited and to have a final period. And when that is elapsed, the bodies of the righteous shall be raised from the dust, and all the effects and remains of the power of the devil and of sin, by which he acquired his power, be entirely abolished, that he may not detain under his power the dust of our bodies, which ought to be temples of God, and of his Holy Spirit in a state of glorious holiness. Nor was this, indeed, altogether unobserved by Fagius, who thus speaks: “The days of Satan’s life are the whole time to the consummation of the world and the coming of Christ. For then he and all his servants shall be thrown headlong into everlasting fire,” Matt. 25:41.

XV. Jehovah God, who speaks to the serpent and declares, that he would put that enmity, of which we have been speaking, takes the honour to himself of being the Author of all those benefits. Though we are not to deny, that the conferring so great a benefit is to be ascribed to the whole undivided Trinity; yet, in the economy of our salvation, the Father, who is first in order, holds the principal place. And whereas, the eternal suretiship of the Son, according to the tenour of the covenant between the Father and the Son, on the supposition of sin, began immediately to exert its efficacy; these words are not improperly referred primarily and immediately to the Father, who, on account of the suretiship of the Son, appoints his grace to the sinner; and who expressly enough distinguishes himself from the Mediator, or the seed of the woman. And indeed, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” 2 Cor. 5:19. that is, the Father in the Son, the Mediator.

XVI. The meritorious cause of those benefits is the seed of the woman, eminently so called. I own, indeed, when the seed of the woman is opposed to the seed of the serpent, and between both an enmity established, both seeds are to be understood collectively; that by the seed of the serpent all the wicked are intended, who, Matt. 3:7, are called the “generation of vipers;” by the seed of the woman, elect believers, together with Christ their head; yet it is without all doubt, that, in this seed, there is some eminent one, to whom that name does chiefly belong, and by whose power the rest of the seed may perform the things that are here foretold. Just as the seed of Abraham is sometimes to be understood more largely, at others more strictly; sometimes denoting his posterity by Isaac and Jacob, as Gen. 17:8: “I will give unto thy seed the land wherein thou art a stranger;” sometimes more especially believers of his posterity, who walk in the steps of the faith of their father Abraham, and to whom the promise of the inheritance of the world, by the righteousness of faith, is made, Rom. 4:12, 13; sometimes, most especially, that eminent one in the seed of Abraham, who is to be the spring of every blessing, as Gen. 21:18: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, which is Christ,” Gal. 3:16. Thus also the things here said are in their measure common to all believers; but then some effects are primarily and principally to be ascribed to him, who, in this seed is the eminent one, namely, Christ; as the apostle also distinguishes the seed that sanctifieth, and that which is sanctified; both which are of one, Heb. 2:11.

XVII. But the reasons for which Christ is called the seed of the woman, seem to be chiefly these two; one peculiar to Christ, the other common to him with other men. That which is common, is his being of the same blood with us, that we might know him to be our brother and next kinsman; for men, in Scripture language, are called “born of a woman,” Job 14:1, and Job 15:4, and 25:4; “born of women,” Matt. 11:11. But then, we must add that which is peculiar to himself, that though Christ indeed had a woman for his mother, being “made of a woman,” Gal. 4:4, yet he had no man for his father, being “without father,” Heb. 7:3. See Jer. 31:22: “a Woman shall compass a man.” For, though this last reason holds not in believers, who are likewise called the seed of the woman, for another reason to be explained directly; yet, seeing Christ holds the principal place in this seed, as he bruises the head of the devil in one sense, and believers in another; so therefore, he is called the seed of the woman in a different sense from them. The same words are indeed used of both; but because Christ is far more excellent than they, therefore when they are applied to Christ, they have a much more illustrious meaning.

XVIII. It is indeed true, that Christ is the seed of Adam, whose son he is called, Luke 3:38; also, the seed of Abraham, and the son of David, because he was born of a virgin who descended from them. Yet there was great reason why he should be here called the seed of the woman, rather than of Adam. For Adam, in Scripture, is represented as the origin of sin and death. Eve, indeed, was first in the transgression; but as it was not Eve, but Adam, who was expressly constituted the fœderal head of all mankind; so sin and death are said to have entered into the world by Adam, Rom. 5:12, 14. Wherefore he, who delivers us from sin and death, ought not to be considered as subordinate to Adam, and as his son; but as the second Adam, and the head of another family opposed to Adam. However, as he was to be our kinsman and brother, it was necessary that he should be born of a woman; and that Adam, as his son by the Spirit and by faith, should be subordinate to him. For since God says here, that he would put enmity between the woman and her seed, and between the serpent and his seed, without any mention of Adam, it must be, that either Adam is excluded this promise, or comprised under the seed of the woman. The respect and regard we ought to have for our parent, who was the author and teacher of the true religion to his posterity, forbids our saying the first. Nor do I think we should say the second; because it is agreeable to reason, that the woman should be comprised under, and accounted in the man; not, on the contrary, the man under the woman. It therefore remains, we say the third; namely, that Adam, as he was the origin of sin and death, is opposed to Christ; as himself was saved, is to be accounted to the seed of the woman, whose head is Christ, and so to be subordinate to Christ. Christ therefore is called the seed of the woman, because being the origin of a better stock, he is opposed to Adam as the root of a corrupt race. And it is hinted, that Adam himself owes his salvation to the woman on account of her seed.

XIX. Paul, if I mistake not, leads us to this, 1 Cor. 11:11, 12, “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” I do not remember to have seen a fuller explication of this place than what I shall give from the Theses of a certain very learned person. That the man and the woman may be in the Lord, partakers of the grace and redemption purchased by Christ, they are mutually indebted to one another for something common to both, which the one neither had nor could have obtained without the other. For as the woman is ἐκ τοῦ ανδρος, of the man, from whose rib she was formed, and who could not have been in the Lord, had it not been for the man, without whom she could not have so much as existed: so the man is in the Lord διὰ τῆς γυναικὸς, by the woman, for the woman was appointed to be the first enemy of the serpent, and the Messiah is called the seed of the woman; but the man obtains the same happiness by the woman, as by faith he lays hold on the Messiah, who was to descend from her in virtue of the promise. The woman is of the man, materially and naturally: not so the man of the woman (which yet might be said; if we only mean ordinary generation, according to the manner that children are of a woman, Matt. 1:3, 5, 6, and Christ himself, Gal. 1:4.) But by the woman, because not materially, but spiritually and supernaturally, by grace and faith. Thus, therefore, the man is the origin of being to the woman, the woman of well-being to the man. But to prevent pride on either hand on this account, and their arrogating any thing to themselves, it is added, “but all things are of God:” by whose wisdom and most free disposal it was ordained that the woman should derive her natural origin from the man; the man, his supernatural from the woman, and become mutually debtors to one another: but the glory of both these privileges to remain entirely to God alone, the supreme cause.

XX. Hence it is evident, such a Saviour is promised, who was to be man, and the son of man. But seeing he is described as stronger than the devil, who, by sin, had acquired a right over man, it follows that he is also true God. For the bruising of the serpent’s head is ascribed to him; and this he does, 1st, By the merit of his satisfaction, and therefore he must have been of such dignity as to be able to pay a suitable ransom for all the elect. 2dly, By the efficacy of his Spirit, which gradually abolishes every power of the devil, and so shows himself to be “stronger than the strong man.”

XXI. God declares the manner in which this Saviour was to purchase salvation, by saying to the serpent, “thou shalt bruise his heel.” In which words there is, 1st, A denunciation of sufferings, to be inflicted on Christ by the devil and his instruments, whereby he would be thrown down for a time. While he himself bruises with his foot the serpent’s head, and strips him of all his power; the serpent, by his envenomed sting, will grievously wound his heel,* and constrain him to stagger and fall. For a man, in an upright posture, stands on his heels, which being grievously wounded, he is thrown down. 2dly, A prophecy of his resurrection: for his head will not be bruised, nor his heart wounded, nor any vital part grievously affected, but only his heel hurt; nay, not both, but only one. Though he was, therefore, thus to be thrown down, yet he was soon to rise again, on resuming strength, and show himself a conqueror to the whole world.

XXII. The sufferings here denounced are not only warlike, as a certain author calls them, with which the serpent, together with his seed, from a hatred to holiness and righteousness, assaulted Christ; but even judiciary, being inflicted, by the most righteous sentence of God, on the Son the surety, to show his righteousness, by which he could not pardon sin without a due satisfaction. For God here personates a judge; pronounces sentence against the devil, declaring his destruction at the appointed time. But the same sentence also condemns the surety of men to undergo those vexations of the devil, which, as a conqueror, he could have inflicted on sinful men. He had indeed acquired his dominion over man by evil practices. Yet after man, by forsaking God, his lawful Lord, had enslaved himself to the devil, the justice of God, in every respect, required his being subject to the devil, as God’s jailor and executioner, for his torment, punishment, and condemnation. In which sense the devil is said to “have the power of death,” Heb. 2:14: and that even by virtue of the law and sentence of God; for “the sting of death is sin;” that is, sin introduced death, and the instruments of it, and made them sharp, mortally to wound man: “but the (strength) power of sin is the law.” That is, the power that sin has of putting man to death, is in virtue of the divine law, which threatened the sinner with death, 1 Cor. 15:56. Whence it follows, that the power of the devil over sinners of mankind is so far lawful, because the devil obtains the power of death over man, but death its power from sin, and sin from the law. But as that law is most righteous, life cannot be granted to the sinner in prejudice thereto. It is therefore necessary, that satisfaction be made to it from some other quarter, and that the devil should exercise that power of death which he had acquired by sin, either on the sinner himself, or on his surety. Yet in such a manner that, while he puts the surety to death, he lays violent hands upon himself, and loses all his dominion over the elect; for full satisfaction is made by the death of the surety, to that divine justice by which the devil had obtained power over the sinner. These words, therefore, show how the devil, in a way agreeable to divine justice, may be deprived of all that power over the elect, which justice had granted him over sinners; namely, because the devil was to exercise that power over the surety of men, by biting his heel, or putting him to death. So that those sufferings, which was here foretold to endure, are, in the highest degree, judiciary or satisfactory. Compare these things with what we have said, book II. Chap. vi. sect. 23, 24.

XXIII. The heirs of those benefits or blessings are, 1st, The woman herself, האשה, with the demonstrative particle, he,* namely, that woman whom the serpent had first attacked and conquered. She is here mentioned, but not in exclusion of her husband, but because she, having been enticed by the flatteries of Satan, seemed to have contracted a greater familiarity with him; and therefore her enmity to the devil was to be a most admirable effect of divine power and goodness. And then it was also a remarkable contempt put upon the proudest of spirits, that he should be vanquished, not by the man, but the woman, that very woman whom he had so easily subdued by his delusions. In fine, from this it most clearly appears, that the whole work of our salvation is owing to divine grace. For if Adam had here been expressly set in opposition to the serpent, because he was stronger and more prudent by nature, and was last overcome by the devil; this thought might, by degrees, have easily gained upon mankind, that, by the remains of virtue and wisdom, which were in Adam, he had undertaken a new combat with the serpent, and with better success. But seeing the commencement of the enmity is ascribed to Eve, the woman, who was both weaker by nature and first overcome, it is clearer than noon-day, that the grace of God alone is here all in all.

XXIV. 2dly, The seed of the woman. By which is signified, not all mankind, but elect believers; as appears from that distinction, by which that seed is opposed to the seed of the serpent. For it is evident that wicked men, who “are of their father, the devil,” John 8:44, 1 John 3:8; and “the children of the wicked one,” Matt. 13:38, are the seed of the serpent. The seed of the woman, therefore, is the godly posterity of Eve; namely, the children of the promise, who “are counted for the seed,” Rom. 9:8. And perhaps this is the reason why the godly are called the seed of the woman, and not the seed of the man; because, as the woman was wholly indebted to a gracious promise, that she was appointed to oppose and fight against the serpent, not without the desired success; so also it was not those children in general who were to be born of her, according to the law of nature, by matrimonial commerce; but those only whose mother she was to be by the same gracious promise, who are here accounted for her seed. For though Eve, as she was joined to Adam in marriage, is the natural mother of all mankind, even of those who are called the seed of the serpent, yet the same Eve being, by virtue of this divine promise, set in opposition to the serpent, by whom she was overcome, is the mother only of the blessed seed which was to proceed from her, not according to the law of nature, but in virtue of the promise of grace; the seed is, therefore, called the seed of the woman, even of that woman who is, and in so far as she is, placed in opposition to the serpent.

XXV. The means by which the appointed heirs become actually partakers of the promised benefits, is faith in the surety, as is intimated by a twofold enigma or dark saying. 1st, As all the heirs are called by the common name, seed; this denotes the mystical union and communion of the seed which is sanctified with that which sanctifies; so that what the latter has done or suffered, the former is accounted to have done or suffered in him. But the band of that union is faith, by which we receive Christ, adhere to him, and become one spirit with him, 1 Cor. 6:17. 2dly, As the bruising the serpent’s head is ascribed to the seed, which, indeed, Christ alone does, by the merit of his obedience, and the infinite efficacy of his Spirit; yet the elect also in Christ, and by the power of Christ, conquer him through faith. Christ is the general in this combat, the seed of the woman by way of eminence, who overthrows and triumphs over the enemy; but next to Christ, and under him, believers also fight and overcome by his power; “and they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb,” Rev. 12:11; that is, because on that very account the blood of the Lamb was shed for them. The victory which the rest of the seed gains over the serpent, cannot but follow upon the shedding of the blood of the lamb, who is the seed of Eve. Moreover, that victory is obtained only by faith: “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world” (consequently the devil, who is called the prince and god of this world, Eph. 6:12, 2 Cor. 4:4.). “And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”

XXVI. It is not to be thought improbable, that so many and so great mysteries of faith are expressed in few words. For the words are both very proper to signify, and elsewhere in Scripture do signify what we have said; and it became the wisdom of God to lay before the primitive church some short abridgement, which, by its well contrived brevity, might comprehend the sum of the things to be believed; and then it is our duty to form high and honourable thoughts of what God speaks. Neither is it unreasonable that the whole should be wrapped up in some enigmatical or obscure expressions. For the bright shining light reserved for noon-day was not suitable to the first dawn of the day of grace. Moreover, God had not then desisted from appearing to our first parents; but explained to them, by frequent instruction and the gracious illumination of their mind, those things which belonged to faith and godliness. And indeed it was wholly reasonable, that above all they should carefully keep this promise of salvation, as a most valuable treasure, diligently meditate thereon, and explain it by mutual conversation to each other and to their children. Some other things seem to belong to this subject, which being briefly related by Moses, we shall explain a little more particularly.

XXVII. Moses having distinctly related what God had said to the serpent, to the woman, and to Adam, subjoins, Gen. 3:20, “and Adam called his wife’s name EVE, because she was [or was constituted] the mother of all living.” It is not necessary that we should here suppose with some a proteron-hysteron,* as if this name had been given before the fall; at the same time, when Adam called that help, which had just been given him, אשה, woman; for there is no reason why we should contend, that things were done at the same time, which Moses relates on different occasions, and after other intermediate narratives. We own, indeed, that sometimes a thing is related after, which had been done before: but this is not usual, unless the affinity of the subject with what goes before or follows makes it necessary. But there is no such affinity here; unless we would say, that this denomination bears some respect to the words of God, before narrated by Moses, in the sense we are presently to show. Nor can we prove that the word וקדא, “and he called,” is to be rendered in the preterplu-perfect tense, “and he had called;” that Moses’s meaning should be, Adam was greatly deceived, who had promised life to himself and his posterity from his wife; whom he afterwards found to prove the cause of death. For, 1st. The following words, which explain the reason of this denomination, are not the words of Adam, deceived in his expectation, but of Moses, showing the truth of the matter. 2dly. If we will have them to be the words of Adam, we ought to change היחה, “she was,” into חהיה, “she will be,” and to have something understood as, he imagined, or the like; to this effect Adam had called her name Eve, because he imagined she would be the mother of all living, but, from the event he learned the reverse. But we do not take upon us so boldly to make free with the sacred text; let us therefore dismiss this ungrounded πρωθυστερον.

XXVIII. But why was she called חוה Chavah, Eve? Some of the Rabbins ridiculously derive that name from חוה, which in Piel denotes to signify, or disclose, “because she was a great talker,” according to Baal Hatturim. Fagius writes, the Jews thus express it, “because she was a great talker, and uttered many empty words to the serpent, till, being ensnared in her talk, she sinned; and as soon as she made her husband to sin, he called her חוה,” Chavah, of Eve, as we render it. But these things are repugnant to the express declaration of the Holy Spirit, who gives a quite different reason for the name; for he shows that this name is derived from חיה, to live, not from חוה; and the yod is changed into vau, to put some difference between the name of the woman and of a beast, which in Hebrew is called חיה, as Aben Ezra has not improperly observed.

XXIX. No less ridiculous is Lyranus, who says, that “Eve in Hebrew denotes life, but subject to penalties:” most of all Peter Comestor, author of the Scholastic history; “that Adam, then deploring the misery of his posterity, called his wife Eve, alluding to the cries of infants; the male newly born crying A, but the female E; as if we should say, all born of Eve will say A or E.” This perhaps might be pardonable in poor Comestor, and in the age in which he lived; but it is highly ridiculous, that amidst so great a light of knowledge, Cornelius a Lapide, in his commentaries, should not blush to call such trifling by the name of pious contemplations. There is nothing in the word חוה, that can denote anguish or penalty. But let us proceed to what is serious.

XXX. Moses explains the reason of the denomination in these words; “because she was, or was constituted the mother of all living.” By “all living,” sometimes is understood all men in general, as Psa. 143:2. And it is certain, that, except Adam, all that ever did, do now, or shall hereafter live, derive their origin from our mother Eve. But if this alone was intended here, it might be asked, 1st, Why Adam chose to call his wife the mother, rather than himself the father of all living, as the natural origin of all is equally due to both? 2dly. Why, as we have shown from the series of the Mosaic history, he gave this name to his wife, not till after the fall; seeing, if we attend to natural generation only, she became the parent, not so much of the living as of the dead? 3dly. Was this a thing so very worthy of notice, since it was self-evident, that all who were to exist, were to descend from her, who was the only woman in the world.

XXXI. It seems therefore more advisable, and more becoming both the faith and piety of Adam, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, who accurately relates those things, to understand by all living, both the Lord Christ, who is the fountain of life, and the elect, who, being united to him, are quickened by his Spirit. The woman was constituted the mother of these living, by the word of promise, by which she was expressly appointed to have that seed, who was to bruise the serpent’s head. Wherefore Adam, who by sin became the father of all who die, 1 Cor. 15:22, called his wife Eve, from his faith in God’s promise, believing, according to the word of God, that no man should have true life, but what would be derived from her. However, the original of this was not in the woman herself, but in the principal seed that was to descend from her. This name therefore contains a confession of Adam’s faith, and shows what Adam taught his children, and to what hope he formed them by the word of God: who, in the very name of his wife, as often as he repeated it, would have a lasting monument both of the promise of God and of his own hope.

XXXII. Peter Martyr, that most excellent interpreter of Scripture, saw and taught these things long ago: who thus comments on the place. “Adam, knowing that her seed would bruise the devil and death, justly and with propriety chose to call her by that name, by which this salutary promise of God might at all times occur to his mind. Now Adam had entertained hopes of life by Christ, and when he perceived that his wife was to be the mother of him, and of all those who were to be quickened by him, called her name Eve, because she was the mother of the living.” Fagius, in like manner: “We doubt not but Adam, by giving that name to his wife, had a view to the promise concerning the seed, that was to bruise the serpent’s head; by which he hoped that his wife was to be that person. Wherefore he named her חוה Chavah, which we call Eve, as if you would say an enlivener; because dead mankind was to be made alive by her offspring.” See also Pareus and others, all agreeing in the same thing.

XXXIII. Eve discovered the same hope, when, upon bringing forth her first-born, she cried out, קניתי איש את יהוה, Gen. 4:1. Which words are variously rendered by interpreters. That which we think most agreeable, is, with Reuchlin, Pelicanus, Fagius, Forsterius, Luther, Clarius, Scindlerus, and many others, to take את, as usual, for the sign of the accusative case, and the meaning be, I have gotten a man Jehovah. Remarkable is the Chaldee paraphrase of Jonathan. “And Adam knew Eve his wife, who was taken with a longing for that angel, and conceived and bore Cain, and said, I have gotten the man, that angel of the Lord.” Certainly our pious mother continually revolving in her mind that promise of God, which was the ground of all her consolation, as soon as she bore that male child, observed in his birth a sign or token, that the promise would be performed. She therefore joyfully exclaims, she had now obtained that promised seed: not that she imagined Cain was that seed, but that, in his birth, she could see the first multiplication of mankind, and, in that multiplication, an argument for her hope concerning the seed, eminently so called, who was to arise in his appointed time. Seeing she laid hold of this with a great assurance of faith, and made it as it were present to her mind, she now so speaks, as if in the birth of Cain, she was actually possessed of that seed, which, by an argument taken from that birth, she expected with an assured faith. For had she thought that Cain was the promised Messiah, and Jehovah himself, she would have paid him, though her own son, religious worship, and by this means incurred the guilt of a horrid idolatry; till being apprised, either by the vicious disposition of the child, or by some other means, she had owned her mistake. Which our pious respect to our common parent forbids us to believe. She moreover publishes an eminent confession concerning the person of the Messiah, whom she acknowledges to be God-man. She declares him to be man, by calling him man; at the same time pointing out his excellence above other men for ראם Adam, and איש Ish, are usually distinguished, so that the last, viz. Ish, implies excellency; and the first, viz. Adam, meanness. Christ, indeed, in his humiliation, was תולעת ולא איש, “a worm and not man,” Psa. 22:6: but considered in himself he is איש ימין יהוה, “the man of the right hand of the Lord,” Psa. 80:17, and נכר עמיתו, “the men his fellow.” Zech. 13:7. She also makes profession of the divinity of the Messiah, when she calls him Jehovah; and signifies, that both natures should be united in one person, by joining these two, איש את יחוה. Paul calls him, “God manifest in the flesh.” 1 Tim. 3:16.

XXXIV. To this explication three things are principally objected. 1st. If Eve intended this, she would have said את איש את יהוה, doubling the sign of the accusative case: as in the following verse, את אחיו את הבל, τον ἀδελφον αὐτοῦ τον Ἅβελ. 2dly. את often signifies the same as עם, with; את יהרה, therefore, signifies with Jehovah, as σὺν Θεῶ, with God. In this sense, Jonathan is said to have wrought עם אלהים, with God, 1 Sam. 14:45, that is, under the conduct and direction, or by the assistance and help, of God. 3dly. Filial respect prompts us to entertain right sentiments concerning the faith of our mother Eve; namely, that she knew and believed the Messiah was not only to be God-man, but also the seed of the woman, that is, the son of a virgin: for without this her faith had been a mistaken, not a true faith, nor yielded her any comfort. She could not therefore think, she got in Cain the Messiah; as she was perfectly well assured, that Cain was not the son of a virgin.

XXXV. We answer, to the first: that the repetition of that particle, is indeed frequent, but yet not universal: for we have instances of the contrary, 1 Kings 11:23, ויקם אלהים לי שטן את רזון. Is. 8:2, ערים נאמנים את אוריה. Ezek. 4:1, עיר את ירושלם. 1 Sam. 15:4, עשרת אלבּים את איש יהורה. Where the sign of the accusative case is placed between two nouns, without a repetition. To the second: we deny not, that את is often equivalent to עם: but there is no instance to prove, that what the Greeks say, σὺν Θεῶ, the Hebrews express in their language by את יחוח, or את אלהים: as it is well known, they usually express it by ביהוה or באלהים. What is adduced from 1 Sam. 14:45, is not to the purpose. For there we have עם but not את. For though these particles are sometimes equivalent, yet they ought not to be confounded. And then, with God, does not so much signify with God’s assistance, as God disapproving. Compare Isa. 36:10. With greater show of reason might be urged Mic. 3:8. ואנבי מלאתי כח את דוח יהוה, “I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord,” that is, by the help of that Spirit; and Hab. 3:13, יצאת לישע עטך לישע את משיחך, “thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thy Messiah,” that is, salvation to be procured by his means. But the former passage is very properly rendered, “I am full of power with the spirit of Jehovah;” full of power no less than full of the Spirit. And the latter should seem to be thus pointed, that God may be said to go forth with Christ for salvation. To the third, it might be answered, that there would be no absurdity to suppose, that Eve was not so well acquainted with every thing, regarding the condition of the Messiah. Who can assert, she knew the Messiah was to be born of a virgin, when the blessed virgin herself did not know it, when she heard it from the mouth of an angel, as appears from her words? “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” Luke 1:34. We deny not that the Messiah is eminently called the seed of the woman, because he was to be born of a woman; which the Holy Ghost afterwards more clearly foretold. But it is no crime to doubt, whether our mother Eve could have gathered this from those words; since, in the sacred language, even they are said to be born of a woman, who are conceived in matrimony, as we showed section xvii. One may assert this, and not transgress against that respect due to our common mother; as it is certain God gradually brought his people to the knowledge of the Messiah: nor does it overturn the faith of Eve, which might have been genuine and saving, though it was under this imperfection, ignorance, and mistake; as Peter had a true faith concerning Christ, that is, a saving, and not a hypocritical, though he imagined through mistake, that Christ could be the Saviour of his people, without sufferings, Matt. 16:22. But we are under no necessity to be obliged to say any of these things, for we do not assert, our mother Eve received Cain, for the very Messiah: but only we are of opinion, that, in the birth of Cain, she observed a sign or token of God’s performing the promise, and something to support her faith, which she was willing to declare and preserve the memory of, by giving him that name: and consequently that argument does not affect us.

XXXVI. And we are not to pass over in silence, that when she afterwards brought forth another son, she called his name Seth, שת, because God (שרת) “hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew,” Gen. 4:25. A sentence full of spiritual assurance and of prophecy. She calls him seed, having a view to the promise, and foretelling that he would not only carry on the enmity with the serpent, but also that from him, that eminent seed would come forth, by whose power the serpent’s head was to be bruised. This seed she proclaims was given by God, as a son not of nature only, but also of grace and promise, and accounted by God himself for a seed: nor only given, but also appointed of God, that is, established and secured by the counsel of God, that he should not be slain, but be the foundation of the future church, to be propagated in an uninterrupted succession in his posterity, and preserved down to Christ. For the word, to appoint, denotes a determination and steadiness, as John 15:16: “I have chosen you, and ordained (appointed) you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit.” She therefore acknowledges Seth for the chosen seed, and the parent of him, in whom all the elect are chosen.

XXXVII. This doctrine of salvation flourished both in the mouths and in the hearts of believers, who began לקרא בשם יהוה, that is, as Aquila translates it, Καλεῖσθαι ἐν ὀνόματι Κυρίου, to be called by the name of the Lord, Gen. 4:26; and they were called the sons of God, as distinguished from the sons of man. Above all, the prophecy of Enoch is very remarkable, which the apostle Jude relates in his epistle, not from any apocryphal book, nor from the mere authority of any unwritten tradition, nor by a sagacious conjecture from the history of Moses, but by the inspiration of that same Spirit, who prompted Enoch to prophecy, ver. 14, 15. in these words: “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh, with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them,” &c. That Lord, of whom Enoch speaks, is the Messiah, in unity of essence the same Jehovah with the Father and the Holy Spirit; to whom also, all power is given in heaven and in earth, and whose peculiar property the elect are on a special account. He foretells his coming by a verb of the preterperfect tense, to express the undoubted certainty of the thing, and the full assurance of his own faith, he prophesies that the Messiah, at that coming, will be attended with myriads of angels. Which happened, when he came down upon mount Sinai, to give the law, Deut. 33:2: and when he came in the flesh, to visit his people: for, then a multitude of the heavenly host, declaring his nativity, was seen and heard in the country of Bethlehem, Luke 3:13: but this will be the case, in a most illustrious manner, when “he shall come in the clouds of heaven, and all the holy angels with him,” Matt. 25:31. The end of this coming will be “to execute judgment upon all; for the Father hath committed all judgment to the Son,” John 5:22, and to convince all that are ungodly, by inflicting the punishments due to their impiety. These things Enoch preached to the people in his days, who, giving a loose to their lusts, impiously denied the future coming of the Lord. And seeing that prophecy contains an universal truth, it is applicable to all who walk according to their lusts. And these are the things which the Scripture testifies were delivered concerning the doctrine of salvation, in the first age of the world.

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Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind