From Herman Witsius The Economy of the Covenants Book 1 chapter 6 Of the Sacraments of the Covenant of Works
“It has pleased God in every economy of his covenants to confirm by some sacred symbols, o the certainty of his promises to remind man of his duty…” This definition of Sacrament is similar to and in some ways, I would say superior to the definition in the Westminster shorter Catechism:
Q. 92 What is a Sacrament?
A. A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.
In the catechism the divines focused on Christ as the giver of sacraments. This definition works for the two sacraments of the New Testament, viz. baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, Christ is the name in the confession and catechisms for the Incarnate Son of God, and as such since there were sacraments prior to the incarnation, question 98 more closely read would refer to the definition of the sacraments of the Covenant of Grace under “the time of the gospel” (cf. WCF VII. 5).
Witsius argue that the most wise, almighty God was pleased that in every covenantal administration there should be such signs that point to both the promises of that covenantal administration and the duties added thereunto.
God has thus appointed to represent before his eyes those things which are pledges of the greatest blessings. He gives four purposes for God’s appointment of the sacraments:
- God’s revelation is proposed for man’s accurate consideration by the signs. In other words, instead God being content to merely give “oracles from heaven.” He was pleased to give signs which point to the heart of that revelation. God spoke and to give “teeth” as it were to his words he gives these signs and seals of his words.
- Tend to confirm our faith. Man by his embodied form needs tactile reinforcers to understand. God thus chooses appropriate signs which point to the truth of what the oracles from heaven have declared that man may have the constant (“nearly daily” is Witsius’ exact wording) reminder and encouragement of the trustworthiness of God’s promises.
- By means of this institution a holy man does by the sight, touch and taste, of the sacred symbols attain to some sense of eternal blessings, and accustoms himself under the symbols to a contemplation and foretaste of these things to the plenary and immediate fruition of which he will one time or other be admitted w/o outward signs. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life,” (Pro 13:12). In the sacrament God gives a foretaste of that deferred hope which God has set before him.
- In them man has something to continually remind him of his duty—“they put him in mind of those very strong obligations, by which he is bound to his Covenant-God.”
Using this expanded definition of sacrament Witsius identified four Sacraments that God gave in the Covenant of Works. He then treats each one by examining first, what good they signified and seal to man; and second, what duty and obligation they remind him of. At this point he makes a caveat in dealing with the sacraments of the Covenant of Works.
- Paradise (i.e. a special Garden)
- The Tree of Life
- The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
- The Sabbath
These sacraments unlike all of them in the Covenant of Grace, do not point to Christ or a mediator, for Adam was responsible to fulfill the covenant stipulations, whereas in the Covenant of Grace the elect require a Surety to fulfill the covenant stipulations. So for example in treating of the relationship of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in 1.6.20 he cites unfavorably Jerome Zanchius likening of the Tree of Life to the Gospel and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as the Law. Witsius concedes that looking back postlapsum at the trees one may see an apposite fitness to this imagery, but it would not have been that which God signified to Adam by these two sacraments.
(In this post we will examine only the first in detail
Following Witsius’ method, the first question to be answered vis-à-vis paradise is, what good is signified? God intended Adam to look at his environs and to seek the better country. God was representing to Adam that glorious abode with God where God would always be in the midst of his elect not visiting as it were. Witsius develops eight analogies between paradise and heaven:
- Both are made and prepared by God for man’s habitation. As such the garden of God was the good gift in which man could thrive, yet it was not the final abode and heaven will perfectly fit his needs.
- As paradise surpassed all the rest of the earth in excellency so shall the New Heavens and New Earth excel all other abodes and will cinduce to the greater glory of God and felicity of man.
- The rivers of paradise are perfect for the growth of life and man in submission go God. The River which makes glad the heart of man which flows forth from Zion will serve for the watering of all creation. Moreover as part of the imagery of the river of life is that no more shall the altar in Zion be used to propitiate God, the water is clear and man shall have life with no need to make peace with God, for God brought an end to the war between God and the elect.
- The precious stones we read of in the garden demonstrate the fitness of the region for human industry done for the glory of God. The far surpassing riches of heaven are such that every need shall be met and there will be no lack.
- In paradise God planted two trees to choose from. Both trees pointed to the manner in which man was to live before God. In heaven many trees of life abound which all point to the eternal felicity between God and man. These trees demonstrate that abundant life is waiting for God’s elect.
- In Genesis 2 we see man created then he was placed in garden which was in Eden. Psalm 1 has similar imagery. The righteous man is transplanted to the streams of living water, which again parallels the translation of the elect from the old heavens and earth to the New Heavens and earth.
- Only innocent man was fit for paradise, so only purified man shall be fit for heaven
- Man had familiar fellowship with God in paradise. God walked in the midst of the garden-temple. In the New Creation there will be no temple for God is in their midst.” and will have intimate fellowship in heaven
As we move from what God presented to Adam for his belief we must now answer the question: what duty did paradise signify for man?
First, Adam was to seek a greater happiness, viz. the immediate fruition of God’s presence in Creation. As Adam looked at the creation he was to thank his Creator for the good gifts and not to seek his felicity in the gifts. As Augustine millennia later stated:
My sin consisted in this, that I sought pleasure, sublimity, and truth not in God but in his creatures, in myself and other created beings. So it was that I plunged into miseries, confusions, and errors. My God, I give thanks to you, my source of sweet delight, and my glory and my confidence. I thank you for your gifts.” Augustine, Confessions I. xx (31)
Again as we look at the sin-list of Romans 1 we see that God places a lack of thankfulness as the overarching heading for the spiral of thorns and thistles he lists there.
God takes not pleasure in idleness, but in active industry. We see this in the positive command that God gives to Adam upon his translation to the Garden. He is commanded to work (עבד) and to keep (שמר) it. These are not passive verbs (and in fact if you look at chapter 3 of Genesis part of Adam’s culpability in the abrogation of the Covenant of Works was his passivity in protecting (שמר) Eve from the deception of the Serpent. Witsius derives five duties for which paradise ought to have served as a reminder.
First the beauty of the environs ought to keep heaven continually in his thoughts. Second, only he that labors and does that which is acceptable to God can get to heavenly habitation. Here is at the heart of and strongest of Witsius’ convictions from a Biblical perspective. Given that fallen man has perverted all of God’s good gifts, he has also perverted the proper balance or work and labor. We live in a society that prizes leisure above all and as such we do not know true rest or true labor. Yet in the Garden, God is revealing to Adam the appropriate balance where he is to labor for six days and rest one. This balance shows that God does not countenance laziness, nor does he countenance workaholicism. In seminary, one pastor came as a guest lecture and boasted that he took off one day in 21, and scheduled his family in for half an hour a day. This is just as out of balance and sinful as the person who never works and when he is at his place of employment does not engage in what he is being gainfully employed to do. In the garden and its appropriate labors, God is demonstrating the appropriate way that man is to live in covenant with God.
The next two focus on the command to guard or keep. Third, positively, God instructed Adam to keep his soul for God as a lovely garden. While he positively fulfilled his duties man is to keep his own self as well. This is part and parcel of the command. For as he does his duty Adam is including himself in these labors, keeping a right frame toward God so that he might continue in a harmonious relationship with his Creator. This means that he is to maintain his loyalty toward God in himself
Fourth, Adam is to guard his soul from wild beasts of lust. As he maintains the garden of his heart he is also to prevent the invasion of invaders of the Garden. When the serpent began his temptation, Adam as guardian ought to have slain the invader and protected his wife, the garden, and creation. This command precludes a passive acquiescence to sin and temptation, but demanded a ruthless war against all that would oppose itself to the Creator.
Fifth, the gift of paradise enjoined him not do anything against God. This encapsulates those sins of omission and commission. He is not to prefer anything illicit, for as his Creator lovingly formed Adam and placed him in the Garden so too he knew that which was best for him. This trust in God’s felicity was paramount for the maintenance of the Suzerain-Vasal relationship, and upon abrogation of this relationship by Adam, it brought about the war of the heavens and the earth, in which only one would be victor and it was not the creature.