Isaiah 51: 8.
For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.
The design of this chapter is to comfort the church under her sufferings, and the persecutions of her enemies; and the argument of consolation insisted on, is the constancy and perpetuity of God’s mercy and faithfulness towards her, which shall be manifest in continuing to work salvation for her, protecting her against all assaults of her enemies, and carrying her safely through all the changes of the world, and finally, crowning her with victory and deliverance.
In the text, this happiness of the church of God is set forth by comparing it with the contrary fate of her enemies that oppress her. And therein we may observe,
I. How short-lived the power and prosperity of the church’s enemies is: “The moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool;” 1: e. however great their prosperity is, and however great their present glory, they shall by degrees consume and vanish away by a secret curse of God, till they come to nothing; and all their power and glory, and so their persecutions, eternally cease, and they be finally and irrecoverably ruined: as the finest and most glorious apparel will in time wear away, and be consumed by moths and rottenness. We learn who those are that shall thus consume away, by the foregoing verse, viz. those that are the enemies of God’s people: “Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law, fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.
II. The contrary happy lot and portion of God’s church; expressed in these words, “My righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.” Who shall have the benefit of this, we also learn by the preceding verse, viz. They that know righteousness, and the people in whose heart is God’s law; or, in one word, the church of God. And concerning their happiness, we may observe, wherein it consists; in its continuance.
1. Wherein it consists, viz. In God’s righteousness and salvation towards them. By God’s righteousness here, is meant his faithfulness in fulfilling his covenant promises to his church, or his faithfulness towards his church and people, in bestowing the benefits of the covenant of grace upon them. Though these benefits are bestowed of free and sovereign grace, as being altogether undeserved; yet as God has been pleased, by the promises of the covenant of grace, to bind himself to bestow them, they are bestowed in the exercise of God’s righteousness or justice. And therefore the apostle says, Hebrews 6: 10. “God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labour of love.” And 1 John 1: 9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So the word righteousness is very often used in Scripture for God’s covenant faithfulness; as in Nehem. 9: 8. “Thou hast performed thy words, for thou art righteous.” So we are often to understand righteousness and covenant mercy for the same thing; as Psalms 24: 5. “He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Psalms 36: 10. “Continue thy loving-kindness to them that know thee, and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.” And Psalms 51: 14. “Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.” Daniel ix 16. “O Lord, according to thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away.”—And so in innumerable other places.
The other word here used is salvation. Of these two. God’s righteousness and his salvation, the one is the cause, of which the other is the effect. God’s righteousness, or covenant mercy, is the root, of which his salvation is the fruit. Both of them relate to the covenant of grace. The one is God’s covenant mercy and faithfulness, the other intends that work of God by which this covenant mercy is accomplished in the fruits of it. For salvation is the sum of all those works of God by which the benefits that are by the covenant of grace are procured and bestowed.
2. We may observe its continuance, signified here by two expressions; for ever, and from generation to generation. The latter seems to be explanatory of the former. The phrase for ever, is variously used in Scripture. Sometimes thereby is meant as long as a man lives. It is said, that the servant who had his ear bored through with an awl to the door of his master should be his for ever. Sometimes thereby is meant during the continuance of the Jewish state. Of many of the ceremonial and Levitical laws it is said, that they should be statutes for ever. Sometimes it means as long as the world shall stand, or to the end of the generations of men. Thus, Ecclesiastes 1: 4. “One generation passeth away, and another cometh; but the earth abideth for ever.” Sometimes thereby is meant to all eternity. So it is said, “God is blessed for ever,” Romans 1: 25. And so it is said, John 6: 51. “If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.“—And which of these senses is here to be understood, the next words determine, viz. to the end of the world, or to the end of the generations of men. It is said in the next words, “and my salvation from generation to generation.“ Indeed the fruits of God’s salvation shall remain after the end of the world, as appears in “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner, but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.” 613 But the work of salvation itself toward the church shall continue to be wrought till then: till the end of the world God will go on to accomplish deliverance and salvation for the church, from all her enemies; for that is what the prophet is here speaking of. Till the end of the world; till her enemies cease to be, as to any power to molest the church. And this expression from generation to generation, may deter mine us as to the time which God continues to carry on the work of salvation for his church, both with respect to the beginning and end. It is from generation to generation, 1: e. throughout all generations; beginning with the generations of men on the earth, and not ending till these generations end.—And therefore we deduce from these words this
The work of redemption is a work that God carries on from the fall of man to the end of the world.
The generations of mankind on the earth which began after the fall, by ordinary generation, are partakers of the corruption of nature that followed from it; and these generations, by which the human race is propagated, shall continue to the end of the world. These two are the limits of the generations of men on the earth; the fall of man, and the end of the world, or the day of judgment. The same are the limits of the work of redemption, as to those progressive works of God, by which that redemption is brought about and accomplished, though not as to the fruits of it; for they shall be to eternity.
The work of redemption and the work of salvation are the same thing. What is sometimes in Scripture called God’s saving his people, is in other places called his redeeming them. So Christ is called both the Saviour and the Redeemer of his people.
Before entering on the proposed History of the Work of Redemption, I would explain the terms made use of in the doctrine;—and show what those things are that are designed to be accomplished by this great work of God.
First. I would show in what sense the terms of the doctrine are used;—particularly the word redemption;— and, how this is a work of God, carried on from the fall of man to the end of the world.
I. The use of the word redemption.—And here it may be observed, that the work of redemption is sometimes understood in a more limited sense, for the purchase of salvation; for the word strictly signifies, a purchase of deliverance. If we take the word in this restrained sense, the work of redemption was not so long in doing; but was begun and finished with Christ’s humiliation. It was begun with Christ’s incarnation, carried on through his life, and finished with the time of his remaining under the power of death, which ended in his resurrection. And so we say, that on the day of his resurrection Christ finished the work of redemption, 1: e. then the purchase was finished, and the work itself, and all that appertained to it, was virtually done and finished, but not actually.
But sometimes the work of redemption is taken more largely, as including all that God accomplishes tending to this end; not only the purchase itself, but also all God’s works that were properly preparatory to the purchase, and accomplishing the success of it. So that the whole dispensation, as it includes the preparation and purchase, the application and success of Christ’s redemption, is here called the work of redemption. All that Christ does in this great affair as Mediator, in any of his offices, either of prophet, priest, or king; either when he was in this world, in his human nature, or before, or since. And it includes not only what Christ the Mediator has done, but also what the Father, or the Holy Ghost, have done, as united or confederated in this design of redeeming sinful men; or, in one word, all that is wrought in execution of the external covenant of redemption. This is what I call the work of redemption in the doctrine; for it is all but one work, one design. The various dispensations or works that belong to it, are but the several parts of one scheme. It is but one design that is formed, to which all the offices of Christ directly tend, and in which all the persons of the Trinity conspire. All the various dispensations that belong to it are united; and the several wheels are one machine, to answer one end, and produce one effect.
II. When I say, this work is carried on from the fall of man to the end of the world; in order to the full understanding of my meaning in it, I would desire two or three things to be observed.
1. That it is not meant, that nothing was done in order to it before the fall of man. Some things were done before the world was created, yea from eternity. The persons of the Trinity were, as it were, confederated in a design, and a covenant of redemption. In this covenant the Father had appointed the Son, and the Son had undertaken the work; and all things to be accomplished in the work were stipulated and agreed. There were things done at the creation of the world, in order to that work; for the world itself seems to have been created in order to it. The work of creation was in order to God’s works of providence. So that if it be inquired, which are greatest, the works of creation or those of providence? I answer, the works of providence; because those of providence are the end of his works of creation; as the building of a house, or the forming of a machine, is for its use. But God’s main work of providence is this of redemption, as will more fully appear hereafter.
The creation of heaven was in order to the work of redemption; as a habitation for the redeemed; Matthew 25: 34. “Then shall the King say unto them on his right, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Even the angels were created to be employed in this work. And therefore the apostle calls them, “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation,” Hebrews 1: 14. As to this lower world, it was doubtless created to be a stage upon which this great and wonderful work of redemption should be transacted: and therefore, as might be shown, in many respects this lower world is wisely fitted, in its formation, for such a state of man as he is in since the fall, under a possibility of redemption. So that when it is said, that the work of redemption is carried on from the fall of man to the end of the world, it is not meant, that all that ever was done in order to redemption has been done since the fall. Nor,
2. Is it meant that there will be no remaining fruits of this work after the end of the world. That glory and blessedness that will be the sum of all the fruits, will remain to all the saints for ever. The work of redemption is not a work always doing and never accomplished. The fruits of it are eternal, but the work has an issue. In the issue the end will be obtained; which end will last for ever. As those things which were in order to this work—God’s electing love, and the covenant of redemption—never had a beginning; so the fruits of this work never will have an end. And therefore,
3. When it is said in the doctrine, that this is a work that God is carrying on from the fall of man to the end of the world, what I mean is, that those things which belong to this work itself, and are parts of the scheme, are all this while accomplishing. There were some things done preparatory to its beginning, and the fruits of it will remain after it is finished. But the work itself was begun immediately upon the fall, and will continue to the end of the world. The various dispensations of God during this space, belong to the same work, and to the same design, and have all one issue; and therefore are all to be reckoned but as several successive motions of one machine, to bring about in the conclusion one great event.
And here also we must distinguish between the parts of redemption itself, and the parts of the work by which that redemption is wrought out. There is a difference between the parts of the benefits, and the parts of the work of God by which those benefits were procured and bestowed. For example, the redemption of Israel out of Egypt, considered as the benefit which they enjoyed, consisted of two parts, viz. their deliverance from their former Egyptian bondage and misery, and their being brought into a more happy state, as the servants of God, and heirs of Canaan. But there are many more things which are parts of that work. To this belongs his calling of Moses, his sending him to Pharaoh, and all the signs and wonders he wrought in Egypt, and his bringing such terrible judgments on the Egyptians, and many other things.
Such is this work by which God effects redemption, and it is carried on from the fall of man to the end of the world, in two respects.
1. With respect to the effect wrought on the souls of the redeemed; which is common to all ages. This effect is the application of redemption with respect to the souls of particular persons, in converting, justifying, sanctifying and glorifying them. By these things they are actually redeemed, and receive the benefit of the work in its effects. And in this sense the work of redemption is carried on in all ages, from the fall of man to the end of the world. The work of God in converting souls, opening blind eyes, unstopping deaf ears, raising dead souls to life, and rescuing the miserable captives out of the hands of Satan, was begun soon after the fall of man, has been carried on in the world ever since to this day, and will be to the end of the world. God has always had such a church in the world. Though oftentimes it has been reduced to a very narrow compass, and to low circumstances; yet it has never wholly failed.
And as God carries on the work of converting the souls of fallen men through all ages, so he goes on to justify them, to blot out all their sins, and to accept them as righteous in his sight, through the righteousness of Christ. He goes on to adopt and receive them from being the children of Satan, to be his own children; to carry on the work of his grace which he has begun in them, to comfort them with the consolations of his Spirit, and to bestow upon them, when their bodies die, that eternal glory which is the fruit of Christ’s purchase. What is said, Romans 8: 30. “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified:” is applicable to all ages, from the fall to the end of the world.
And the way of effecting this, is carried on by repeating continually the same work over again, though in different persons, from age to age. But,
2. The work of redemption with respect to the grand design in general, as it respects the universal subject and end, is carried on—not merely by repeating or renewing the same effect in the different subjects of it, but—by many successive works and dispensations of God, all tending to one great effect, united as the several parts of a scheme, and all together making up one great work. Like a temple that is building; first, the workmen are sent forth, then the materials are gathered, the ground is fitted, and the foundation laid; then the superstructure is erected, one part after another, till at length the top-stone is laid, and all is finished. Now the work of redemption in this large sense, may be compared to such a building. God began it immediately after the fall, and will proceed to the end of the world. Then shall the top-stone be brought forth, and all will appear complete and glorious.
This work is carried on in the former respect, as being an effect common to all ages; and in the latter respect—the grand design in general—not only by that which is common to all ages, but by successive works wrought in different ages. All are parts of one great scheme, whereby one work is brought about by various steps, one step in one age, and another in another. It is this last that I shall chiefly insist upon, though not excluding the former; for one necessarily supposes the other.
Having thus explained what I mean by the terms of the doctrine; I now proceed,
Secondly, to show what is the design of this great work, or what things are designed to be accomplished by it. In order to see how any design is carried on, we must first know what it is. To know for instance, how a workman proceeds, and to understand the various steps he takes in order to accomplish a piece of work, we need to be informed what he intends to accomplish; otherwise we may stand by, seeing him do one thing after another, and be quite puzzled, because we see nothing of his scheme. Suppose an architect, with a great number of hands, were building some great palace; and one that was a stranger to such things should stand by, and see some men digging in the earth, others bringing timber, others hewing stones, and the like, he might see that there was a great deal done; but if he knew not the design, it would all appear to him confusion. And therefore, that the great works and dispensations of God which belong to this great affair of redemption may not appear like confusion to you, I would set before you briefly the main things designed to be accomplished.
I. It is to put all God’s enemies under his feet, and that his goodness may finally appear triumphant over all evil.
Soon after the world was created, evil entered into the world in the fall of the angels and man. Presently after God had made rational creatures, there were enemies who rose up against him from among them; and in the fall of man evil entered into this lower world; where also God’s enemies rose up against him. Satan endeavoured to frustrate his design in the creation of this lower world, to destroy his workmanship, to wrest the government of it out of his hands, to usurp the throne, and set up himself as the God of this world, instead of him who made it. To these ends he introduced sin into the world; and having made man God’s enemy, he introduced guilt, and death, and the most dreadful misery.
Now one great design of God, in the affair of redemption, was to subdue those enemies: 1 Corinthians 15: 25. “He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” Things were originally so planned, that he might disappoint, confound, and triumph over Satan; and that he might be bruised under Christ’s feet. Genesis 3: 15. The promise was given, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. It was a part of God’s original design in this work, to destroy the works of the devil, and confound him in all his purposes: 1 John 3: 8. “For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” It was a part of his design, to triumph over sin, and over the corruptions of men, and to root them out of the hearts of his people, by conforming them to himself. He designed also, that his grace should triumph over man’s guilt, and sin’s infinite demerit. Again, it was a part of his design, to triumph over death; and however this is the last enemy that shall be destroyed, yet that shall finally be vanquished and destroyed. Thus God appears glorious above all evil, and triumphant over all his enemies by the work of redemption.
II. God’s design was perfectly to restore all the ruins of the fall, so far as concerns the elect part of the world, by his Son; and therefore we read of the restitution of all things. Acts 3: 21. “Whom the heaven must receive, until the times of the restitution of all things; and of the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 3: 19. “Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”
Man’s soul was ruined by the fall; the image of God was defaced; man’s nature was corrupted, and he became dead in sin. The design of God was, to restore the soul of man to life and the divine image in conversion, to carry on the change in sanctification, and to perfect it in glory. Man’s body was ruined; by the fall it became subject to death. The design of God was, to restore it from this ruin, and not only to deliver it from death in the resurrection, but to deliver it from mortality itself, in making it like unto Christ’s glorious body. The world was ruined, as to man, as effectually as if it had been reduced to chaos again; all heaven and earth were overthrown. But the design of God was, to restore all, and as it were to create a new heaven and a new earth: Isaiah 65: 17. “Behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” 2 Peter 3: 13. “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
The work by which this was to be done, was begun immediately after the fall, and so is carried on till all is finished, when the whole world, heaven and earth, shall be restored. There shall be, as it were, new heavens, and a new earth, in a spiritual sense, at the end of the world. Thus it is represented, Revelation 21: 1. “And I saw a new heaven, and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.”
III. Another great design of God in the work of redemption, was to gather together in one all things in Christ, in heaven and in earth, 1: e. all elect creatures; to bring all elect creatures, in heaven and in earth, to an union one to another in one body, under one head, and to unite all together in one body to God the Father. This was begun soon after the fall, and is carried on through all ages, and shall be finished at the end of the world.
IV. God designed by this work to perfect and complete the glory of all the elect by Christ—glory, “such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has ever entered into the heart of man.” 614 He intended to bring them to perfect excellency and beauty in his holy image, which is the proper beauty of spiritual beings; and to advance them to a glorious degree of honour, and raise them to an ineffable height of pleasure and joy. Thus he designed to glorify the whole church of elect men in soul and body, and with them to bring the glory of the elect angels to its highest elevation under one head.
V. In all this God designed to accomplish the glory of the blessed Trinity in an eminent degree. God had a design of glorifying himself from eternity; yea, to glorify each person in the Godhead. The end must be considered as first in order of nature, and then the means; and therefore we must conceive, that God having professed this end, had then as it were the means to choose; and the principal mean that he adopted was this great work of redemption. It was his design in this work to glorify his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; and by the Son to glorify the Father: John 13: 31, 32. “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God also shall glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.” It was his design that the Son should thus be glorified, and should glorify the Father by what should be accomplished by the Spirit to the glory of the Spirit, that the whole Trinity, conjunctly, and each person singly, might be exceedingly glorified. The work that was the appointed means of this, was begun immediately after the fall, and is carried on till, and finished at, the end of the world, when all this intended glory shall be fully accomplished in all things.
Having thus explained the terms in the doctrine, and shown what things are to be accomplished by this great work of God. I proceed now to the proposed history; that is, to show how what was designed by the work of redemption has been accomplished, in the various steps of this work, from the fall of man to the end of the world.
In order to this, I would divide this whole space of time into three periods:—the
1st, reaching from the fall of man to the incarnation of Christ;—the
2d, from Christ’s incarnation till his resurrection; or the whole time of Christ’s humiliation;—the
3d, from thence to the end of the world.
Some may be ready to think this a very unequal division; and so indeed it is in some respects, because the second period, although so much shorter than either of the other—being but between thirty and forty years, whereas both the other contain thousands—in this affair is more than both the others.—I would therefore proceed to show distinctly how the work of redemption is carried on through each of these periods in their order, under three propositions.
I. That from the fall of man to the incarnation of Christ, God was doing those things which were preparatory to his coming, as forerunners and earnests of it.
II. That the time from Christ’s incarnation to his resurrection, was spent in procuring and purchasing redemption.
III. That the space of time from the resurrection of Christ to the end of the world, is all taken up in bringing about or accomplishing the great effect or success of that purpose.
In a particular consideration of these three propositions, the great truth taught in the doctrine may perhaps appear in a clear light.