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Ins covenant with him in his original state of innocency, even the covenant of works; which being violated by the sin of Adam, and thereby his posterity being brought into unhappy circumstances, it pleased God, out of his rich mercy to provide another and a better covenant, even the covenant of grace ; which is a wise, holy and merciful constitution of God for the recovery of fallen man to his favour and image by his Son Jesus Christ. Now the different dispensations, under which mankind have been placed ever since, are but different editions or manifestations of this covenant of grace to men in several ages of the world.
Chap. II.—TheAdamical Dispensation of the Covenant of Grace or the Religion of Adam after his Fall.
I. The first dispensation after the fall, was that constitution of God to recover guilty and sinful man to the holiness and happiness, which was given to our first parents, Adam and Eve, to be conveyed by them, with religious care, to all their posterity, who suffered by their fall. This is the first edition of the gospel, or the covenant of grace. Herein God promised by the seed of the woman to bruise the serpent's head; Gen. iii. 15. or as it is now explained by St. John: 1 John iii. 8. and might be then, perhaps, explained by God himself, that the promised seed came to destroy the works of the devil. This was the general blessing of this dispensation, as expressed in that early age of the world. It intimates the design of God for the salvation of men, by some mighty Saviour, who should be born of a woman, and should recover them to the image of God, and his favour, from which they fell by the temptation of the devil: And though it was not clearly revealed at first, what this Saviour was to do or suffer, in order to reconcile God and man, yet all the further steps and gradual blessings of this reconciliation in every age of mankind, are owing to the undertaking and the promise of this Saviour; and all tend to accomplish this first promise.
II. The duties herein required of man, were repentance for past sin; a return to new obedience, and sincere love to God, with a humble faith or trust in his mercy: This is an acceptance of the covenant of grace. All this, indeed, is not expressly recorded in Genesis; but probably God made a more explicit discovery of these things than is written in so short a history: And these things are plainly and expressly required in several of the following dispensations. ^
Besides, the very light of nature, under every dispensation of grace, requires all this, even repentence, faith, love and obedience, to be practised by every sinner that would find mercy of God : And what is plainly written in the law of nature is not always repeated so distinctly in every dispensation of grace, aa 1 intimated before. This dispensation also, and perhaps, all the
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following require further, that man should not only have faith or
- trust in general in the divine mercy, but as-itis particularly promised to be manifested, by some mighty Saviour, as far as he is revealed to them, who should be the seed of the woman, or one of her offspring, and who was afterwards called the Messiah, that is, the annointed or the Christ, and was to be expected under this character. ,
III. The great and final blessing to be expected, under this first dispensation, as also, under the following dispensation of grace, is not immortality, or a continuance in life without dying: The blessed God has determined that diseases and afflictions, mortality, and death, which were brought in by sinning, or by the breach of the law of inuocency, should so far remain throughout all the generations of men, as to be a constant memorial of that broken law, and of the evil of sin. Since, therefore the
- good men of all ages, as well as the bad, pass through these diseases, sorrows, sufferings and death: And there is but little distinction made between the righteous and the wicked in this life, by the providence of God; it remains, that the final blessings of good men under all the dispensations of grace, must be some felicity to be enjoyed in a future world or another life: And that is the happiness of the soul in the everlasting love of God, and in the sense of his love, when the body is dead, together with some obscure hints of the resurrection of the body. These blessings were more clearly revealed by degrees, as the dispensation of grace went onward, and especially in the last dispensation, that is, christianity. But, even in these early times, God translated Enoch, a most holy man, to heaven without dying, in in order to give notice to the world by a visible example, that there was some future state of reward and felicity for such as walked with God.
IV. The emblem or sign annexed to this dispensation, was the appointment of sacrifices to be offered; and itis justly inferred from the words of Moses, that with the skins thereof man was clothed, since beasts were not then slain for food; Gen. iii. 21. These sacrifices were figures of Christ, the seed or son of the woman, the great Mediator between God and man, and the true sacrifice of atonement, by which God is reconciled, and man is secured from deserved misery, as the skins of beasts secure hii i from harm. This is called the Adamical dispensation of grace, which in the proposal of it belonged to all the family of Adam, thatis, to all mankind, for he taught it to them, and accordingly righteous Abel offered his sacrifice of a lamb, with acceptance before God ; Gen. iv. 4. This dispensation reached till Noah's flood.
V. Observe, that under this first, and under all the following dispensations of the gospel or covenant of grace, as they 'are proposed to men, the natural law of innocency, which is usually called the moral law, not only with all its precepts, but with its penalties too, abides in force, and is by no means abolished: It stands perpetually in full power, and is written in the heart of man by nature; Rom. ii. 14, 15. to command every man to fulfil the precepts of it perfectly, as well as to condemn every man who does not perfectly fulfil them: And the only way of his release from this condemnation, is, by his acceptance of the dispensation, or the covenant of grace, by repentance and trust in the divine mercy. Thus though every man enjoys the common blessings of life, and by God's long suffering is invited to repentance, and is put under some general and external proposals or encouragements of the covenant of grace, yet he lies under the sentence and curse of the broken covenant of works, till he stands intitled to the blessings of the covenant of grace, by his own acceptance of it.
VI. Let it be yet further observed, that reason and the law of nature, not only dictate our duty where revelation is silent, but the whole moral law in the precepts of it, was taken into every dispensation of the gospel, as a part of it, to be the constant and everlasting rule of man's duty ; for this law partly arises from the relation of creatures to the God who made them, and partly from the mutual relation of creatures to each other, and therefore it is unchangeable. And a perfect-obedience to all the commands of it, is required under the dispensation of grace, as well as in the law of innocency or covenant of works; for if perfect obedience were not required, then imperfection would not be sinful.
VII. You will say then, what is the difference between the two covenants ? I answer here, one great difference liesin this, that under the law of innocency or covenant of works, the perfection of our own personal works of obedience, answering the demands of the law, was to have been our justifying righteousness, and was the only condition of obtaining the blessing promised, that is, immortality and eternal life; and nothing short of this perfection was accepted of God: No law can justify those who are under it, unless it is perfectly obeyed. Here was no pardon of sin provided, nor any encouragement or promise given to repentance. But, in all the dispensations of the covenant of grace, though perfect obedience to the moral law be still required, and this law continue to condemn those who break it, yet, for the sake of the Mediator, and of what he was to do and suffer, this condemning sentence is taken off, or reversed by the mercy of God in this new covenant: our sins against every law, and all our imperfections of duty are pardoned, and our souls are accepted of God unto salvation, if we accept of and submit to the dispensation of grace; that is, if we return to God in a way of humble repentance for sin, with faith or trust in the discoveries of his mercy, so far as it is made known, or revealed to us, in our age.
Or, perhaps, we may better describe this our acceptance of and submission to every dispensation of grace, by such a faitli, or hope in the mercy of God, so far as it is revealed, as raises in the heart an unfeigned repentance for having displeased him, with a sincere and hearty love to him, which love produces a holy obedience to his will, or an upright and hearty desire to obey it, as far us it is made known to men. This last seems to be the most natural and proper way of describing our acceptance of the covenant of grace, under every dispensation, because it is a hope or trust in the mercy of God, which is, and must be the spring of true repentance, and new obedience in every sinner ; for where there is no hope there is no encouragement to repent, or return to God; Ps. exxx. 4. There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest he feared, loved and obeyed.
VIII. Hence it comes to pass, that as under the covenant of works, man was to he justified by his own perfect righteousness of works commensurate to the demands of the law ; Gal. iii. 12. and Rom. x. 5. So, under every edition of the covenant of grace, men, who can be no more justified by their works, because they are imperfect, are to be justified by their faith, or dependence on grace; as Rom. iv. 1—16.*. But this faith in the divine mercy, and forgiveness, doth in the very nature of it imply, or in the necessary consequences carry with it, a hearty acknowledgment or confession of guilt, or want of righteousness in ourselves, as well as a sincere return to God, and constant desire to please him, arising from that humble trust or hope in pardoning grace. Thus Abraham and David, under their different dispensations, were both justified by faith, or trusting in mercy, without, a righteousness of works, as well as St. Paul and the Romans under the dispensation of Christianity, as is most evident in Rom. ivf
IX. To make this yet more evident, let us consider that the ▼cry light of nature, which requires of every creature a perfect obedience to all the will of God requires also of every sinner, perfect repentance and a complete return to universal obedience to all the commands of God. But this cannot be done or expected under our present degenerate state: And therefore, wheresoever men do truly repent of all sin, and return unto God with a honest heart, and sincerely, though not perfectly obey his commands, and comply with the requirements of that dispensation under which they live, from a hope of the favour and mercy of God, and under a sense of their failings do trust in divine mercy, so far as it is revealed, they shall have this faith or trust in the grace of a forgiving God reckoned unto them, and accepted of him unto their obtaining a justifying righteousness, that is, unto their pardon and justification, or their having a right to impunity and eternal life. This is righteousness; and this is is the plain sense of Horn. iv. 3, 5. Faith is counted or imputed for righteousness.
* Thii doctrine is the chief design of the third and fourth chaptert to the Roman*. See the note on the words wif-if and w.fiirai at the fifth section of the viii. chapter of thii treatise.
f Though Ood justified gocd men by faith, and not by wort.;, under every dispensation of the covenant of grace, as the New Testament informs us ; Rom. iv. yet there was so necessity, that every good man, who was justified should know this doctrine expressly and distinctly, under every darker dispensation of God. It wns enough if they practiced repentance and new obedience, under the influence of faith or hope in the divine mercy, or a belief of the grace which God revealed. This runs through the chapter in Hcb. xi. God fotbid, that we should suppose the knowledge of these christian controversies, and sublime doctrines, to be necessary to the salvation of every good man, under the darkness of those early dispensations. How far this accurate knowledge may be supposed to be necessary, under the New Testament, I will not debate here.
It may not be improper to dwell a little upon explaining this text. Observe here, first, that righteousness often in scripture, does not signify acts of righteousness, but a right to life, and so it is to be construed iu this place. Observe, secondly, it is not said that faith is imputed or counted instead of righteousness which Would have required the word trip or «»7i: But it is nn; \oytyrat i»? tSixMtaum, that is, faith is imputed or reckoned to our account, as an important or necessary thing, in order to our having a justifying righteousness, or a right to impunity and life. Survey the whole verse; Rom. iv. 5. to him thatttorketh not, but believeth on him that justijieth the ungodly, his faith is imputed for righteousness; that is, it is not the works of obedience which any man performs, that are or can be counted or imputed to him, iu order to his justifying righteousness or justification; for when he first commences a believer, he has no g.>od works, and when he has any, they are all imperfect, and answ.-r not fully the demands of any law of God: But ft is his faith or trust and dependence on forgiving grace, on the account whereof God acceptcdi and justijieth those who have been ungodly, even before they have actually wrought any such works of righteousness, whereby they might preteudto a justifying righteousness of their own, having hud no time or opportunity for it.
Some interpreters make «ri/3n, the ungodly, in this place to signify the Gentiles, as in some other scriptures; and so it stands as a parallel of Abraham's being justified by faith, in his uncircumcised estate, or before he obeyed God in bein» circumcised as it follows, verses 9, 10. But still it is faith, and not works which must justify such sinful creatures; as the best of mankind arc in the sight of God; because faith implies an acknowledgment of the imperfection and insufficiency of our best works, and a dependence on the forgiviug grace of God. As I take this to be