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Covenant Theology – God’s Master Plan > Covenantal Ideas – by Dr. Herman Witsius
Witsius was one of the best compilers of covenant theology – this is an excerpt from his bigger work on the Covenants.
The Decalogue: Covenant of Works or Covenant of Grace By Dr. Herman Witsius
Now concerning this covenant, made upon the ten commandments, it is queried, Whether it was a covenant of works, or a covenant of grace? We judge proper to premise some things, previous to the determination of this question. And first, we observe, that, in the Ministry of Moses, there was a repetition of the doctrine concerning the law of the covenant of works. For both the very same precepts are inculcated, on which the covenant of works was founded, and which constituted the condition of that covenant; and that sentence is repeated, “which if a man do he shall live in them,” Lev. xviii. 5. Ezek. xx. 11, 13. by which formula, the righteousness, which is of the law, is described, Rom. x. 5. And the terror of the covenant of works is increased by repeated comminations; and that voice heard, “cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them,” Deut. xxvii. 26. Now the apostle declares, that this is the curse of the law, as the law is opposed to faith, or the covenant of grace, Gal. iii. 10, 12. Nay, as the requirement of obedience was rigid under the ministry of Moses, the promises of spiritual and saving grace were more rare and obscure, the measure of the Spirit granted to the Israelites, scanty and short, Deut. xxix. 4. and on the contrary, the denunciation of the curse frequent and express; hence the ministry of Moses is called, “the ministration of death and condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 7, 9. doubtless because it mentioned the condemnation of the sinner, and obliged the Israelites to subscribe to it. Secondly, we more especially remark that, when the law was given from mount Sinai or Horeb, there was a repetition of the covenant of works. For, those tremendous signs of thunders and lightnings, of an earthquake, a thick smoke and black darkness, were adapted to strike Israel with great terror. And the setting bounds and limits round about the mount, whereby the Israelites were kept at a distance from the presence of God, upbraided them with that separation, which sin had made between God and them. In a word, “Whatever we read,” Exod. xix. (says Calvin, on Heb. xii. 10.) “is intended to inform the people, that God then ascended his tribunal, and manifested himself as an impartial judge. If an innocent animal happened to approach, lie commanded it to be thrust through with a dart; how much sorer punishment were sinners liable to, who were conscious of their sins, nay, and knew themselves indited by the law, as guilty of eternal death.” See the same author on Exod. xix. 1, 16. And the apostle in this matter, Heb. xii. 18-22. sets mount Sinai in opposition to mount Zion, the terrors of the law to the sweetness of the gospel. Thirdly, We are not, however, to imagine, that the doctrine of the covenant of works was repeated, in order to set up again such a covenant with the Israelites, in which they were to seek for righteousness and salvation. For, we have already proved (B. 1. chap. ix. section 20) that this could not possibly be renewed in that manner with a sinner, en account of the justice and truth of God, and the nature of the covenant of works, which admits of no pardon of sin. See also Hornbeck.Theol. Pract. tom. 2. p. 10. Besides, if the Israelites were taught to seek salvation by the works of the law, then the law bad been contrary to the promise, made to the fathers many ages before. But now says the apostle, Gal. iii. 17. “the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” The Israelites were, therefore, thus put in mind of the covenant of works, in order to convince them of their sin and misery, to drive them out of themselves, to show them the necessity of a satisfaction, and to compel them to Christ. And so their being thus brought to a remembrance of the covenant of works tended to promote the covenant of grace. Fourthly, There likewise accompanied this giving of the law the repetition of some things belonging to the covenant of grace. For, that God should propose a covenant of friendship to sinful man, call himself his God (at least in the sense it was said to the elect in Israel), take to himself any people, separated from others, for his peculiar treasure, assign to them the land of Canaan as a pledge of heaven, promise his grace to those that love him and keep his commandments, and circumscribe the vengeance denounced against despisers within certain bounds, and the like; these things manifestly discover a covenant of grace: and without supposing the suretiship of the Messiah, it could not, consistently with the divine justice and truth, be proposed to man a sinner. Judiciously says Calvin on Exod. xix. 17. “by these words we are taught, that these prodigies or signs were not given, to drive the people from the presence of God; nor were they struck with any terror, to ex. asperate their minds with a hatred of instruction: but that the covenant of God was no less lovely than awful. For, they are commanded to go and meet God, to present themselves with a ready affection of soul to obey him. Which could not be unless they had heard something in the law besides precepts and threatenings.” See also Tilenus Syntagm. p. 1. Disp. 33. Section 18, 19, 20, 28, 29. Having premised these observations, I answer to the question. The covenant made With Israel at mount Sinai was not formally the covenant of works, 1st. Because that cannot be renewed with the sinner, in such a sense as to say, if, for the future, thou shalt perfectly perform every instance of obedience, thou shalt be justified by that, according to the covenant of works. For, by this, the pardon of former sins would be presupposed, which the covenant of works excludes. 2dly. Because God did not require perfect obedience from Israel, as a condition of this covenant, as a cause of
10. and acknowledge not its pedagogy. 33. not adverting to God’s purpose or intention. For.” Certainly.com/covenant-theology/covenantal-ideas-by-dr-herman-witsius/ 20/11/2012 . which also belonged to them. these are Ishmaelites (for thus. 25. chap. the terror or which being increased by those tremendous signs that attended it. Psal. or commandments. What was it then? It was a national covenant between God and Israel. persons who are at length cast out of the church of God. B. and I think rightly. but also promises. It also supposed the doctrine of the covenant of works. Exod. sinned but in the least instance. in that Place. which those very persons. both in this life. which supposes both. are not the form of a covenant properly so called. Deut. under the covenant of grace it is proposed. and by it sought for righteousness. the chosen from among Israel had obtained this. embraced it as a covenant of works. who seek for righteousness by the law. 4. What therefore is that generation unto bondage. This agreement therefore is a consequent both of the covenant of grace and of works. which he there speaks of? It is doubtless those. who basely abuse the law. For. xix. chap. xxxiv. man cannot sincerely promise that observance. which he commanded you to perform. 4. they ought to have been excited to embrace that covenant of God. by the children of Sinai. 2 Kings xxiii. but rather make it an obstacle to their coming to him. rather than of a covenant strictly speaking. it is formally neither: but a covenant of sincere piety. altogether opposite to the gospel-covenant. that under the covenant of works. I deny not. with Ishmael. in that place. The ten words. and to which the said Israelites bound themselves by covenant. consists in a mutual agreement. thus the covenant of grace is made known. offered to the elect. which contain the conditions of it. and in the intention of God. This reciprocal promise supposed a covenant of grace. taken from the covenant of works. Pages 182ff. Taken From “Economy of the Covenants”. In like manner. Whether the ten words are nothing but the form of the covenant of grace? This. xxxi. or contain the condition of enjoying that salvation: and that both Under the covenant of grace and of works. and this they will continue to be. or to be performed by a mediator. which belong to the covenant of grace. 3dly. the servile generation of the law did riot binder them from having the spiritual Jerusalem for their mother. unto this day.. Hence the question. and in that which is to come. that the form of the covenant of grace consists in absolute promises. For. Jer. as all such do. A like agreement and renewal of the covenant between God and the pious is frequent. xxix. God. even ten commandments. close |X| Theology • Apologetics http://www. that they may fear me for ever. cxix. Hence the scripture. 32. and disinherited. xxxiv. But the ten words contain only a prescription of duty fenced on the one band by threatenings. especially to the ten words. 22. required the Israelites to observe. will not venture to deny. on the other. 18. is by no means an accurate way of speaking. that the ten commandments are frequently in scripture called the covenant of God. Because it did not conclude Israel under the-curse. and basely abused his covenant. But at the same time. Nay. and bestows strength to obey.while they tarried in the deserts of Arabia. liv. in its strict signification. this condition is required to be performed by man himself. I apprehend. that the ten words are nothing but the form of the covenant of grace. Paul does not consider the covenant of mount Sinai as in itself. and depends on no condition. and xxxii. whether of works or of grace? I shall answer. as a law. may be decided: namely. or the covenant of mount Sinai. This the were from the beginning. I. The pious fathers who lived under the Old Testament did not so. As an instrument of the covenant. 27. As an instrument of the covenant they point out the way to eternal salvation.” But such a promise appears not in the covenant made at mount Sinai. And Moses loudly proclaims. which is very much agitated at this day. that in the passages we have named. “but Israel which followed after the law of righteousness. that the covenant of mount Sinai was nothing but a covenant of works. Herman Witsius Generated by Foxit PDF Creator © Foxit Software http://www.. They may be considered in a twofold manner. he compares to the Ishmaelites Israelites. as an evidence of reverence and gratitude. and ears to ‘hear. 3840. but as abused by carnal and hypocritical men. but sincere obedience. shall. 8. that. However the carnal Israelites.apuritansmind. be at length turned out of the house of their heavenly Father. or after the tenor of those words. on this very account. whereby Israel promised to God a sincere obedience to all his precepts. 2dly. nor want its reward. Morlorat reads) born unto bondage. Isa. And. Jeremiah has shown us. xxiv. 8. in the sense peculiar to the covenant of works. Precisely. since a covenant strictly so called. wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith. but the rule of duty: much less are they the form of the covenant of grace: because that covenant. Thus Moses explains himself on this head. what is properly the form of the covenant should contain the said mutual agreement. Let Calvin again speak: “The apostle declares. xxxi. this they still are. promised to Israel. xv. they are the rule of our nature and actions. mention is made of some covenant between God and his people. The form of the covenant is exhibited by those words. both national and individual.” To the same purpose it is. and being destitute of true righteousness. which we have already quoted from Exod. as already performed. or in whatever state man shall be. For. who stick to the bare law. no person can be ignorant.” The design of the apostle therefore. as they ought. Least of all can it be said. Nor was it formally a covenant of grace: because that requires not only obedience. or last will. under whatever covenant. who has a right to command. See again Calvin on Rom. of what kind. 3. as Jer. Deut. consists of mere promises and.” They are therefore called a covenant by a synecdoche. distinguishes the new covenant of grace from the Sinaitic. 41 and I will give them one heart. 5. iv. 106. 14. But they. but was formally neither the one nor the other. which consists in a mutual agreement from the ten words.A Puritan's Mind » Covenantal Ideas – by Dr. For. distinguishing the covenant itself. which was the country of the former. It is certain. 1st. xxxii. Paul declares this. Neh. 31-33. with whom we are now disputing. has the nature of a testament. Things. and often signifies nothing but a precept. “yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive. on the other hand. As a law. by promises. by which they are brought to Christ.foxitsoftware. that such an observance would be acceptable to him. that the term covenant has various significations in the Hebrew. where all hope of pardon was cut off. If any should ask me. sect. that. which God. III. But with this difference. because they contain those precepts. if they. is not to teach us. when he set his covenant before them. Yet not in virtue of this covenant. etc. and yet that an imperfect observance should be acceptable to God is wholly owing to the covenant of grace. but as it were by the works of the law. for they stumbled at that stumbling-stone. he meant hypocrites. and one way. hath not attained to the law of righteousness. 2 Chron. x. but only that the gross Israelites misunderstood the mind of God.com For evaluation only. Jer. which stipulated obedience. God. therefore. Rom. 24. x. says that a covenant was made upon these ten words. Of the former see Josh. Of the latter. 29. but gave no power for it: but in virtue of the covenant of grace. “And he declared unto you his covenant. as we have at large explained and proved. 39. 31. 6. both as to soul and body. Página 2 de 7 claiming the reward. as it relates to elect persons. which HE has prescribed. ix. 12. who are born to bondage of their mother Hagar. when it speaks properly. iv. 13. mistook the true meaning of that covenant. without the assistance of the covenant Of grace. Gal. and eyes to see. and conceive nothing concerning it but what is servile. since we may look upon them as having a relation to any covenant whatever.
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