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NATURE AND EFFICACY
E learn from the Scriptures, that, from the creation of the world, it pleased the Almighty to make a covenant with the
beings he had created the W
terms of which were, on their part, faith and obedience, and, on the part of the Creator,
blessings and rewards unspeakable, even eternal life.
In this first covenant, we see the design of those instituted symbols or signs which we call Sacraments, which have no natural virtue in themselves to convey blessings, but are made the effectual means of them by the Divine appointment. When the Lord God placed Adam in the garden of Eden, he appointed the tree of
life for a symbol or sacrament of immortality, to make him sensible that eternal life, which was the object of his hopes, was the free gift of his Creator; and the tree of knowledge for a trial of man's faith and obedience, commanding him not to touch it under the penalty of death. In the opinion of the early Christians, “ Paradise was to Adam a type of heaven; and the never-ending life of happiness promised to our first parents, if they had remained obedient, would not have been continued in this earthly paradise, but have commenced only here, and been perpetuated in a higher state of existence.
Man, in a primeval condition, consisted of a soul and body, unsullied, and endued with powers enabling him to grow and increase in the divine life, that he might be translated at length to immortality in heaven, but under the threatening of death if he should violate the terms of acceptance. The terms were violated, -- Adam, by transgression, fell”—and the whole race of mankind, corrupted in him, became unfit for the high and glorious end for which they had been made and fitted by a gracious Creator. It was the doctrine of the early Church, which has been followed by the Church of England, that “ from that instant the soul became spiritually dead, the Holy Spirit, which is the life of the soul, being then withdrawn and separated from it by the just judgment of the offended God.” We read in the Book of Wisdom,“ God created man to be immortal, and made him an image of his own eternity ; nevertheless, through envy of the Devil, death came into the world.” And in our catechism we are taught, that now we are all“ by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath ;" for, " by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation."
The condition of man seemed utterly hopeless. But, from the lost and wretched state into which he was fallen, God, in his infinite mercy, raised him by the promise of a Redeemer, who, in his surpassing love and pity, engaged to pay the penalty due to the divine justice, by making an atonement by his death for the sins of the whole world—“ the Just being sacrificed for the unjust”--that thus, “ by the righteousness of one, the free gift of grace might come upon all men unto justification of life.”
Thus the original promise of redemption and atonement is as extensive as the original sin of mankind : it is a promise absolute and universal, embracing the whole human race. But though “
grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord,” salvation is only conditional ; for St. Paul distinctly says, that “ if they who know the judgments of God commit things worthy of death, God will still give them over to a reprobate mind.” Our restoration from death to the hope of eternal life, is “ the free gift of God through Christ ;" but still, “ in the day of revelation of the righteous judgment of God, every man will receive according to his deeds—they that have done evil shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.”
We see, then, that the gracious dispensation of the Gospel was declared when the promise was made to Adam, “ that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head ;” and until the fulness of time should come,” when the Son of God was to assume the form of man, and to become a willing victim on the cross for us, expiatory sacrifices were appointed by the Almighty to be a lively representation of that expected and promised atonement, without which justification could not possibly be attained.
That the neglect of God's ordinances is not allowed to go unpunished, we have an awful assurance in the dreadful destruction of the world by the deluge. At that time, we read, that “ Noah only was a just man, and walked with God, when the whole earth besides was filled with violence ;" therefore, “ Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord,” and “the Lord said to him, The end of all flesh is come before me, and every thing that is in the earth shall die, but my covenant will I establish with thee.” This was the renewal of the former covenant of grace and mercy made with Adam; for Noah was not spoken to in his private character, but in his public capacity, as head and representative of the human race; and the benefit, thus confirmed and renewed, was to extend to all his posterity, without limitation or reservation, except what necessarily results from the nature of any covenant whatever, the performance of the terms and conditions on the part of man.
The period which elapsed from the deluge to the birth of Abraham, was about three hundred and fifty years, in which time, it appears, that the greater part of mankind were again sunk in wickedness, notwithstanding the former awful warning. God did not, however, punish their disobedience by another general destruction ; but, having judged Abraham to be faithful, he separated him from his family and country, and sent him to dwell in Canaan, where his posterity were to be the depositaries of the laws, were to be considered the people of God, and the possessors of that land in which the Saviour was to be born.
From this time, a particular providence attended the people of Israel ; the Almighty himself, as their Head and Governor, condescended to prescribe to them a body of laws, and, by a continual series of typical prefigurations, prepared them for the acknowledgment and reception of the great Deliverer, who had been promised from the beginning of the world. The Jewish religion, therefore, in its several particular institutions, was only “a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ,” and was intended to typify and prefigure the more perfect dispensation of the Gospel. The connection between them is obvious, and points out the consistency of the divine purpose, and the harmony evidently intended to subsist between both dispensations.