On one of the blogs I followed, it was suggested that we in the modern age should read some of the men of ages past like Jonathan Edwards. I have read Edwards before and must admit that it is a hard read because of the way language was used 250 years ago. But I for some reason, I have found that his treatise on The History of Redemption is really not all that hard to read from a language perspective, but it is extremely hard to read if you don’t read it slowly and take some time to digest it. What follows is not a pureed meal, this is steak that requires a lot of chewing to savor the flavor of what Edwards is talking about. I hope you will journey along with me as I share a classic work by Jonathan Edwards.
The History of Redemption
GENERAL INTRODUCTION AND DOCTRINE
“For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be forever, and my navigation from generation to generation.” Isaiah 51:8
The design of this chapter is to comfort the church under her sufferings, and the persecutions of her enemies. 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,
1. 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,” i.e. however great their prosperity is, and however great their present glory. They shall by degrees consume and vanish away a secret curse of God, until they come to nothing. All their power and glory, and so their persecutions, shall eternally cease. They will 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 reviling.”
2. The contrary happy lot and portion of God’s church, expressed in these words, “My righteousness shalt be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.” Who are meant as those that 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 this happiness of theirs here spoken of, we may observe two things, viz. 1. Wherein it consists. 2. 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. These benefits, though they are bestowed of free and sovereign grace, are altogether undeserved. Yet as God has been pleased, by the promises of the covenant of grace, to bind himself to bestow them, so they are bestowed in the exercise of God’s righteousness or justice. And therefore the Apostle says, Heb. 6:10, “God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labour of love.” And so, 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. So it is used in Neh. 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 Psa. 24:5, “He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Psa. 36:10, “Continue thy loving kindness to them that know thee, and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.” And Psa. 51:14, “Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.” Dan. 9:16, “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, forever, and from generation to generation. The latter seems to be explanatory of the former. The phrase forever, is variously used in Scripture. Sometimes thereby is meant as long as a man lives. So it is said, the servant that has his ear bored through with an awl to the door of his master, should be his forever. Sometimes thereby is meant during the continuance of the Jewish state. So of many of the ceremonial and Levitical laws it is said, that they should be statutes forever. Sometimes it means as long as the world shall stand, or to the end of the generations of men. So it is said, Ecc. 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,” Rom. 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 by the 6th verse, “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 forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.” But the work of salvation itself toward the church shall continue to be wrought until then, until 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, until the end of the world, until her enemies cease to be, as to any power to molest the church. And this expression, “from generation to generation,” may determine 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, i.e. throughout all generations, beginning with the generations of men on the earth, and not ending until these generations end, at the end of the world. 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 did not begin until after the fall. The beginning of the posterity of our first parents was after the fall. For all their posterity, by ordinary generation, are partakers of the fall, and of the corruption of nature that followed from it. These generations, by which the human race is propagated, shall continue to the end of the world. So these two are the limits of the generations of men
on the earth, the fall of man the beginning, and the end of the world, or the day of judgment, the end. 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, as was said before, shall be to all 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
1. Explain the terms made use of in the doctrine – and,
2. Show what those things are that are designed to he accomplished by this great work of God.
First, I would show in what sense the terms of the doctrine are used. And, 1. I would show how I would be understood when I use the word redemption – and, 2. How I would be understood when I say, this work is a work of God carried on from the fall of man to the end of the world.
I. I would show how I would be understood when I use 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 so 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 it was begun and finished with Christ’s humiliation. It was all wrought while Christ was upon earth. It was begun with Christ’s incarnation, and carried on through Christ’s life, and finished with his death, or the time of his remaining under the power of death, which ended in his resurrection. And so we say, that the day of Christ’s resurrection is the day when Christ finished the work of redemption, i.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 then sometimes the work of redemption is taken more largely, including all that God works or accomplishes tending to this end, not only the purchasing of redemption, but also all God’s works that were properly preparatory to the purchase, or as applying the purchase and accomplishing the success of it. So the whole dispensation, as it includes the preparation and the purchase, and 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 not only what Christ the mediator has done, but also what the Father, or the Holy Ghost, has done, as united or confederated in this design of redeeming sinful men. Or, in one word, all that is wrought in the execution of the eternal 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 do directly tend, and in which all the persons of the Trinity do conspire, and all the various dispensations that belong to it are united. 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. There were many things done in order to this work of redemption before that. Some things were done before the world was created, yea from all eternity. The persons of the Trinity were as it were confederated in a design and a covenant of redemption, in which 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. And besides these, there were things done at the creation of the world, in order to that work, before man fell. 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 of these kinds of works are the greatest, the works of creation or the works of providence? I answer, the works of providence, because God’s works of providence are the end of his works of creation, as the building an house, or the forming an engine or machine, is for its use. But God’s main work of providence is this great work of God that the doctrine speaks of, as may more fully appear hereafter.
The creation of heaven was in order to the work of redemption. It was to be an habitation for the redeemed, Mat. 25:34, “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, 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,” Heb. 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. Therefore, as might be shown, in many respects this lower world is wisely fitted, in the formation, for such a state of man as he is in since the fall, under a possibility of redemption. So 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 wok after the end of the world. The greatest fruits of all will be after that. That glory and blessedness that will be the sum of all the fruits, will remain to all the saints after that. The work of redemption is not an eternal work, i.e. it is not a work always a doing and never accomplished. But the fruits of this work are eternal fruits. The work has an issue. But in the issue the end will be obtained, which end will never have an end. As those things that were in order to this work before the beginning of the world, as God’s electing love, and the covenant of redemption, never had a beginning. So the fruits of this work, that shall be after the end of the world, 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 that belong to this work itself, and are parts of this scheme, are all this while accomplishing. There are things that are in order to it that are before the beginning of it, an d fruits of it that are after it is finished. But the work itself is so long a doing, even from the fall of man to the end of the world. It is all this while a carrying on. It was begun immediately upon the fall, and will continue to the end of the world, and then will be finished. The various dispensations of God that are in this space, do belong to the same work, and to the same design, and have all one issue, and therefore are all to he reckoned but as several parts of one work, as it were 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 procured and bestowed, and the parts of the work of God by which those benefits were procured and bestowed. As, for example, there is a difference between the parts of the benefit that the children of Israel received, consisting in their redemption out of Egypt, and the parts of that work of God by which this was wrought. The redemption of the children 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 of God which is called his work of redemption of Israel out of Egypt. 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.
It is this work by which God effects redemption that we are speaking of. This work is carried on from the fall of man to the end of the world. And it is so in two respects.
(1) With respect to the effect wrought on the souls of the redeemed, which is common to all ages from the fall of man to the end of the world. This effect that I here speak of, is the application of redemption with respect to the souls of particular persons, in converting, justifying, sanctifying and glorifying of them. By these things the souls of particular persons are actually redeemed, and do receive the benefit of the work of redemption in its effect in their souls. And in this sense the work of redemption is carried on in all ages of the world, 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 captivated souls out of the hands or 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, ever since the first erecting of the church of the redeemed after the fall, 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 these 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, and adopt and receive them from being the children of Satan, to be his own children. So also he goes on to sanctify or to carry on the work of his grace, which he has begun in them, and to comfort them with the consolations of his Spirit, and to glorify them, to bestow upon them, when their bodies die, that eternal glory which is the fruit of the purchase of Christ. What is said, Rom. 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.” I say this is applicable to all ages, from the fall, to the end of the world.
The way that the work of redemption, with respect to these effects of it on the souls of the redeemed, is carried on from the fall to the end of the world, is by repeating and continually working 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 from the fall of man to the end of the world in a different manner, 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 end and effect, all united as the several parts of a scheme, and all together making up one great work. Like a house or temple that is being built. First, the workmen are sent forth, then the materials are gathered, then the ground fitted, then the foundation is laid, then the superstructure is erected, one part after another, until at length the top stone is laid, and all is finished. Now the work of redemption in that large sense that has been explained, may be compared to such a building, that is carrying on from the fall of man to the end of the world. God went about it immediately after the fall of man. Some things were done towards it immediately, as may be shown hereafter. God has proceeded, as it were, getting materials and building, ever since. And so will proceed to the end of the world. Then the time will come when the top stone shall be brought forth, and all will appear complete and consummate. The glorious structure will then stand forth in its proper perfection.
This work is carried on in the former respect that has been mentioned, viz. , as to the effect on the souls of particular persons that are redeemed, by its being an effect that is common to all ages. The work is carried on in this latter respect, viz. , as it respects the church of God, and the grand design in general. It is carried on, not only by that which is common to all ages, but by successive works wrought in different ages, all parts of one whole, or one great scheme. One work is brought about by various steps, one step in one age, and another in another. It is this carrying on of the work of redemption 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, that you may the more clearly see how the great design and work of redemption is carried on from the fall of man to the end of the world, I say, in order to this, I now proceed, in the second place, to show what is the design of this great work, or what things are designed to be done by it. In order to see how a design is carried on, we must first know what the design is. To know how a workman proceeds, and to understand the various steps he takes in order to accomplish a I piece of work, we need to be informed what he is about, or what the thing is that he intends to accomplish. Otherwise we may stand by, and see him do one thing after another, and be quite puzzled and in the dark, seeing nothing of his scheme, and understanding nothing of what he means by it. If an architect, with a great number of hands, were a 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 that 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 in this great work, to accomplish which God began to work presently after the fall of man, and will continue working to the end of the world, when the whole work will appear completely finished. And the main things designed to be done by it are these that follow.
I. It is to put all God’s enemies under his feet, and that the goodness of God should finally appear triumphing 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. In the fall of man evil entered into this lower world, and God’s enemies rose up against him here. Satan rose up against God, endeavouring to frustrate his design in the creation of this lower world, to destroy his workmanship here, and to wrest the government of this lower world out of his hands, and usurp the throne himself, and set up himself as god of this world instead of the God that made it. And to these ends he introduced sin into the world. Having made man God’s enemy, he brought guilt on man, and brought death and the most extreme and dreadful misery into the world.
Now one great design of God in the affair of redemption was, to reduce and subdue those enemies of God, until they should all be put under God’s feet, 1 Cor. 15:25, “He must reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet.” Things were originally so planned and designed, that he might disappoint and confound, and triumph over Satan, and that he might be bruised under Christ’s feet, Gen. 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 that infinite demerit that there is in sin. Again, it was a part of his design, to triumph over death. This is the last enemy that shall be destroyed, yet that shall finally be vanquished and destroyed.
God thus appears gloriously above all evil, and triumphing over all his enemies, was one great thing that God intended by the work of redemption, and the work by which this was to be done, God immediately went about as soon as man fell, and so goes on until he fully accomplishes it in the end of the world.
II. In doing this, 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. 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 ruined. Man’s nature was corrupted and destroyed, and man became dead in sin. The design of God was, to restore the soul of man, to restore life to it, and the image of God, in conversion, and to carry on the restoration 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, Isa. 65:17, “Behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” 2 Pet. 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 until all is finished at the end, 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, Rev. 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 off redemption, was to gather together in one all things in Christ, in heaven and in earth, i.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 of the world, and 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. It was a design of God to advance the elect to an exceeding pitch of glory, “such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has ever entered into the heart of man” He intended to bring them to perfect excellency and beauty in his image, and in holiness, which is the proper beauty of spiritual beings, and to advance them to a glorious degree of honour, and also to an ineffable pitch of pleasure and joy, and thus 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 pitch under one head. The work which tends to this, God began immediately after the fall, and carries on through all ages, and will have perfected at the end of the world.
V. In all this God designed to accomplish the glory of the blessed Trinity in an exceeding degree. God had a design of glorifying himself from eternity, to glorify each person in the Godhead. The end must be considered as first in the order of nature, and then the means. 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 pitched upon was this great work of redemption that we are speaking of. It was his design in this work to glorify his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. And it was his design, 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 until, 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 made use of in the doctrine, and shown what the things are which 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.
1. Reaching from the fall of man to the incarnation of Christ.
2. From Christ’s incarnation until his resurrection, or the whole time of Christ’s humiliation.
3. From thence to the end of the world.
It may be some may be ready to think this a very unequal division. And it is so indeed in some respects. It is so, because the second period is so much the greatest. For although it be so much shorter than either of the other, being but between thirty and forty years, whereas both the other contain thousands. Yet in this affair that we are now upon, it is more than both the others.
I would therefore proceed to show distinctly how the work of redemption is carried on from the fall of man to the end of the world, through each of these periods in their order, which I would do under three propositions, one concerning each period.
I. That from the fall of man until the incarnation of Christ, God was doing those things that were preparatory to Christ’s coming and working out redemption, and were forerunners and earnests of it.
II. That the time from Christ’s incarnation, until 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 off that purchase.
In a particular consideration of these three propositions, the great truth taught in the doctrine may perhaps appear in a clear light, and we may see how the work of redemption is carried on from the fall off man to the end off the world.