THE COVENANT OF EDEN.
The announcement of the seed of the woman a promise of Christ;
this promise was a covenant; character and work of Messiah declared;
further explained by sacrifices; influence of this covenant upon the faith,
and piety of the patriarchs; lessons taught by this covenant.
The first announcement of a Deliverer for man, from the horrible position in which sin had placed him, was made in Eden, immediately after the fall, by God himself. It was addressed, in the presence of our first parents, to the malicious tempter. “I will put enmity,” said he, “between thee, and the woman; and between thy seed, and her seed. It shall bruise thy head; and thou shalt bruise his heel.”1 May this declaration be accounted, and received, in any proper and correct sense, as a covenant? Why I ask, may it not? It was a stipulation, a promise, a declaration of the divine purpose, an appointment. Particularly, was it not “A settlement, or an establishment of things, wherein by means of a Mediator, God designed to reconcile men, and take them into a friendly relation with himself?” If the definition of a word may be properly substituted for the word itself, and that it may, no one will dispute, then is it shown by the exposition of the former chapter, that this announcement is unquestionably a covenant in the highest sense of that term. It contained within itself, a promise of Messiah, with a declaration as to the humanity of his nature, and as to the manner in which having his own heel, or humanity bruised, but at the same time, bruising the head, or overthrowing the power of Satan, he would achieve the redemption of men. That our first parents, and all the primitive saints fully so understood it, there can reasonably be no doubt. That your mind may be still more deeply impressed with these facts, let the whole passage in which this covenant occurs, be repeated. Speaking of our first parents, Moses says:- “They heard the voice of the Lord God, walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam, and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord, amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, [ashamed] because I was naked, and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the Lord said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field. Upon thy belly shall thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. And I will put enmity between thee, and the woman; and between thy seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head; and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow, and thy conception; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband; and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: Cursed is the ground for thy sake. In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also, and thistles, shall it bring forth unto thee. And thou shalt eat the herb of the field. in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread until thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken. For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”2
I pause not here further to consider the appalling curse pronounced; the withering blight which came over man, and over all earthly things. These have been sufficiently presented in our discussion of the “covenant of works,” in the previous chapter. Our only object is, to learn definitely, the true sense of the covenant of Eden, if I may so designate this transaction. I do not allege that it has been seriously misunderstood. There has in regard to it, been in every age, a remarkable unity of opinion. But that by Biblical Interpreters generally, it has not been properly estimated, is to me most evident. Some of our most popular divines speak of it as “obscurely intimating a Saviour;” others as “giving faint intimations of the divine goodness;” and even those who have attributed to it the highest importance, have not felt its full force and magnitude. Did it indeed, but “obscurely hint” a Saviour? Did it give forth of him “faint intimations” only? It was in truth, nothing less than the glorious “dawning of the gospel” day upon our world. So it was undoubtedly understood by the apostles. Paul refers it thus,3 “When he [Christ] cometh into the world he saith, Sacrifice, and offering, thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me. In burnt offerings, and sacrifices for sin, thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo I come, in the volume”. the head,4 the beginning “of the book it is written of me, to do thy will, 0 God.” “By the which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all.” What does he mean by “the head,” or the beginning of the book, the Bible? What other passage there, but this, speaks of the mission, and work of Christ? Nor is this exposition peculiar to christians. The Jewish Rabbies, as is well known, understood the covenant in the same sense. Speaking of it the Targum of Jerusalem says:- “There will be a remedy for man, but not for the serpent, but he shall wound his heel, at the end of the days of the king Messiah.” The Targum of Jonathan, and numerous other Hebrew authorities, say substantially the same thing. They assert that “The seed of the woman is Messiah.”5 Did Scott then affirm too much, when he said,6 “This announcement comprises the whole gospel, with a prophetic history of the apposition with which it should meet, and the success with which it should be crowned, in all ages, and countries, until the end of time ?”
But why has this covenant failed to make its full impression upon so many minds? It may, perhaps, be on account of the singular relations in which it is found, and of the indirect manner in which it was announced. These circumstances are happily explained by Andrew Fuller. He says, “If man had been in a suitable state of mind, the promise might have been direct, and addressed to him. But he was in no such state. His heart, whatever it might have been afterwards, was yet hardened against God. It was fit, therefore, that whatever designs of mercy were entertained concerning him, or his posterity, they should not be given in the form of a promise to him, but of a threatening to Satan.”7 On these accounts God said to the serpent, and not to them, “I will put enmity between thee, and the woman; and between thy seed, and her seed. It shall bruise thy head; and thou shalt bruise his heel.” This peculiar relation of the covenant has also another excellency. It serves to reveal to us one at least, of the most precious truths in the divine word. It apprises us that the declaration of a Deliverer was made to man, before the sentence was pronounced which overwhelmed him with the consequences of his sins. He stood before his Creator a transgressor, criminal, ashamed, but still stout and unsubdued. He was not yet formally condemned. The sorrow, and suffering, and death, he had incurred, were withheld. They had not descended upon him. How full of kindness were these dealings of God! The remedy was thus made known, that man might not be utterly crushed by the blow. Then, and not till then, the curse came upon him.
It is now I trust, apparent to you that the announcement of a Deliverer for man in Eden, was a covenant, in the true gospel sense, and that it was so understood by all primitive saints, as well as by Christ, and his apostles. It was accompanied, also, by most important and impressive explanations of the character and work of the Deliverer, in the forms of divine worship then instituted.
The worship of God has always demanded, and ever must require, as to its essence, the homage as we have seen, of the heart. The forms of worship have, however, been different under different dispensations. That now instituted consisted mainly in the offering of slain beasts in sacrifice. These were wholly consumed upon the altar. The skins were reserved, and became the materials of which they prepared their necessary apparel. That such service was specifically enjoined by Jehovah, is sufficiently evinced by the subsequent offerings of Cain and Abel. If they had not been required, their presentation could not have constituted the worship of God, since no truth is more clear than that where there is no command there can be no obedience. The sacrifice of Abel, and those of many others afterwards, were accepted as obedience to Jehovah. They were therefore, commanded by him. That of Cain was not accepted because it consisted not in slain animals, but fruits of the earth, and therefore was in form, and matter, a violation of the divine ordinance. God kindly instructed personally, our first parents in his service; he himself primarily officiating. The narrative is brief, but peculiarly graphic. “Unto Adam, and unto his wife, did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them;”8 coats of the skins of those animals he had slain for sacrifice. They could not have been slain for food, because it was not then lawful for men to eat flesh. The appointment of God on this subject immediately after the fall, is contained in a passage already before you. He said to our first parents, in relation to their subsistence, “Thou shalt eat the herb of the field.”9 It was not until after the flood that they were allowed animal food. God said to Noah and his family, after they had left the ark: “Every moving thing that liveth, shall be meet for you; even as the green herb [which alone had before been eaten] have I given you all things.”10 Would this grant now have been formally made, if it had previously existed? Animal food was not therefore eaten by men, previous to the flood. Consequently the beasts that were slain were as has been said, wholly consumed in sacrifice. How full of instruction are these facts! I may say, adopting the quaint language of Henry:11 “These coats of skin had a significancy. The beasts whose skins they were, must be slain; slain before their eyes; to show them [our first parents] what death is;” “that they may see themselves as mortal, and dying.” “They were slain not for food, but for sacrifice, to typify the great sacrifice which in the latter end of the world, should be offered for all. Thus the first thing that died was a sacrifice, or Christ in a figure;” a representation of “the womans seed,” whose heel was to be bruised, or who was to suffer death for the sins of men.” “These sacrifices,” he continues, “were divided between God and man, in token of reconciliation; the flesh to be offered to God, a whole burnt offering; the skins given to man for clothing; signifying that Jesus Christ having offered himself to God a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savor, we are to clothe ourselves with his righteousness as with a garment, that the shame of our nakedness may not appear.” Such were the explanations given in the forms of worship instituted in the beginning of the world, of the character and work of the Redeemer promised in the covenant.
And is it true, as has been asserted, that all the saints previous to the days of Abraham, understood these doctrines as they have now been explained? That they did, cannot be reasonably questioned. No other period of the world has been marked by instances of more devoted piety than that of which we now speak. But piety without intelligence is impracticable. It is an axiom in theology, that where there is no promise, or other divine declaration, there can be no faith. There is in fact, nothing to believe. Yet it is said, that “By faith Abel offered unto God, a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gift; and by it he being dead, yet speaketh.” Also that, “By faith Enoch was translated, that he should not see death; and be was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.”12 Similar statements are true of Noah, and many more, who lived during that age. But what did they all believe? Than those contained in this covenant there were no other promises, no other divine declarations whatever. Their faith must therefore hare been predicated alone upon the divine declarations, and promises made in the covenant now under consideration.
And now, what were some of these truths, may we not say great gospel-truths which holy men of primitive times, learned from the covenant of Eden, and upon which their faith rested?
1. It taught them that the great Deliverer promised, was to be, not an angel, not any being of another race, but their brother; “the seed of the woman.” And such truly was he. For “Both he that sanctified, and they who are sanctified, are all of one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” And since “the children” of men, “are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise, took part of the same.” “He took not on him the nature of angel;” but “the seed of Abraham,” because “in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.”13 And yet more. They learned from it, that the Messiah promised, was to be” the seed of the woman” peculiarly; that is, of the woman only; in other words, as to his human nature, that he was to be the son of a virgin. The fulfilment of this declaration in Jesus of Nazareth, is amply set forth by the evangelists, and especially by Mathew, and Luke,14 with a record of the before so frequently repeated promise:- “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord shall give unto him the throne of his father David; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
2. They were further instructed by this covenant, that Messiah was to accomplish the work of redemption through suffering. To Satan Jehovah said, “Thou shalt bruise his heel.” And in all parts of the word of God, but especially in the New Testament, this great truth is perpetually kept before our eyes. “It became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering.”15 And again. “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations.”16
3. They were also here distinctly taught that Messiah, in his mission upon earth, would achieve a glorious conquest over all the powers of darkness. And blessed be God, he has effectually “bruised the head” of the great enemy. For this purpose the Son of man was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”17 By his sufferings “He hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”18 And ultimately being “lifted up from the earth,” he” will draw all men unto him.19 All sin will at last be blotted out, and Jesus will reign over the whole earth.
In these truths they bad, as you must perceive, the sum and essence of the gospel of Christ. They were sustained, directed and saved, by the same truth, and the same grace, that now animate and fill your heart with peace and joy.
We have now seen that the announcement in Eden of a Deliverer for man, was a promise of Christ, and that this promise was a covenant in the highest and most exalted sense; that the nature and work of Messiah was further explained in the forms of worship then, instituted; that the influence of this covenant upon the faith and piety of the early patriarchs, and of all the saints up to the days of Abraham was of the most elevated character; and that it taught them that Christ was to be their, and our brother, that he was to be the son of a virgin, that the work of redemption was to be accomplished by him through suffering, and that by his mission into our world he would achieve a glorious conquest over all the powers of darkness, and ultimately “fill the whole earth with the knowledge of the glory of God, as the waters covers the sea.” With these expositions, I submit this part of our subject. I am gratified to find that in these views, we have the concurrence of the true men of every age; the ancient Hebrews, and all modern evangelical christians. How rich was that grace which led to the provision of this glorious remedy for sin, and the merciful kindness which prompted its early developement to men. I entreat you to study it carefully, and prayerfully, until in all its characteristics, it is fixed in your heart, and your soul overflows with the gratitude it is so well fitted to inspire.
Gen iii: 15.
Gen iii: 8 19.
Heb x: 5-10.
En kephalidi biblion gegraptai peri emou.
Vide Gill in loco, et Paulus Fagius.
Com in loco.
Works. Vol 3, p. 15.
Gen iii: 21.
Gen iii: 18.
Gen ix: 3.
Comm. in loco.
Heb xi:4, 5
Heb ii: 11-17
Matt I:18-21; Luke I: 26-33
Heb ii: 10,14
Luke xiv: 46,47
1 John iii : 8
2 Tim I:10
John xii: 32