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The Excellency and Advantages of the Christian_Dispensation, with the Invitations and Promises of the Gospel.
HEB. viii. 6. He is the Mediator of a better Covenant which was establish ed upon better Promises.
THIS better covenant which the apostle here commends, is the christian religion, or the dispensation of the gospel under Jesus Christ the Messiah and the Mediator. Now in order to shew the superior excellency of the christian dispensation it is necessary to take a brief review of all those former dispensations of grace, which are more largely explained in the foregoing sermon*.
The first is that of Adam. No sooner was man fallen from his state of innocency, and had lost all reasonable hopes of happiness, according to that constitution and covenant in paradise which our divines have generally called the covenant of works, but the goodness of God was manifested in revealing to Adam the covenant or constitution of grace, as it was contained in this obscure promise, the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent; Gen. iii. 15. which in the language of the New Testament, signifies that the Saviour in the fulness of time should be born of a woman, and should destroy this work of the devil. Gal. iv. 5. 1 John iii. 8. This first promise, doubtless was more largely explained to our first parents, which encouraged sinful mankind by the hopes of a Saviour, and of acceptance with God, to repent of their transgressions and return to their Maker in a way of new obedience. This is that gospel which is the same in all ages, and which runs through all the bible; viz. that there is forgiveness for sinful men who return to God, and this is to be manifested through a Saviour. But in the several discoveries of this gospel to men, there were several additional duties or promises, or both, which distinguish them into what we call different dispensations.
This constitution or covenant of grace in its dispensation to Adam, had the appointment of sacrifices superadded, which were
* See sermons at Berry-Street, sermon xii. "The various Dispensations of the Gospel, &c."
figures of Christ, the true sacrifice of atonement. This covenant was also confirmed to Noah and his sons after the flood, with some further precepts about the distinctions of meats and the punishment of murder, and the promise that the earth should be no more destroyed by water, of which the rainbow was an appointed seal. This is that dispensation by which Job and Melchisedec also were saved with many others in that early age of the world.
The same covenant was continued to Abraham with some clearer promises of the Messiah, or Saviour. The gospel was preached to Abraham; Gal. iii. 8. together with the addition of a promised inheritance in the land of Canaan, as a type of heaven, and the peculiar precept of circumcision, which was a figure of the mortification of sin. This is called the dispensation of Abraham.
The same gracious covenant or gospel was yet farther revealed to Moses, and by him to the nation of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. This was called the Levitical or Mosaical or the Jewish dispensation. Heb. iv. 2. The gospel was preached to them as well as unto us. And here the law and will of God were more explicitly set before them, and their encouragements to repentance and hope in divine mercy for eternal life grew greater by the many discoveries of grace they enjoyed, and by the dwelling of God among them upon the mercy-seat. Here also there were a multitude of emblems or signs and pledges, both of the blessings of God and the duties of man, which are usually called the Jewish ceremonies.
But it must be observed, that in this dispensation of Moses, there were very many precepts and promises of a carnal and temporal kind superadded to the gospel of grace, which precepts and promises together with the ten commands considered apart from the gospel, made up that Sinai-covenant, which was really a covenant of works; it was made between God as the political head or king of that people; and the Jews as his subjects; and it was by the observance of this outward covenant the Jews were to enjoy the land of Canaan, and temporal blessings therein.
Let it be well considered that this Sinai-covenant which is often called the law in scripture and which in this chapter is called the first covenant, was a distinct thing from the covenant of grace, or that gospel which secretly ran through all the dispensations, and which was included in this dispensation also; that gospel which in some clear expressions, and many types and dark hints was witnessed by the law and the prophets; Rom. iii. 21. and by which both Abraham and David, and the pious Jews
were pardoned and saved as St. Panl proves in Rom. iv. 10-25. The great apostle in his Epistles to the Romans, and Galatians, and Hebrews is often teaching them that this Sinai-covenant, this law of Moses, with all the ceremonies of it, could not give them life; Gal. iii. 21. that is pardon of sin, and eternal salvation, when it is considered as a distinct thing from the constitution or covenant of grace, which was shadowed out by it: And it is in this sense chiefly the apostle in the verses following my text, tells them, "The first covenant was not faultless, that is, was not sufficient to save sinful men, or make them holy and happy; and therefore he often warns them against trusting in it for salvation, and assures them that it waxed old in his day, and was vanishing away, verses 7, and 13. and that a new covenant is now introduced, that is, the christian dispensation, or the gospel itself in the most spiritual manifestation of it. Now as Moses was the mediator of this covenant of Sinai, and Aaron the priest obtained the ministry thereof as in the foregoing chapters, so in my text the Son of God being manifest in the flesh, is that High-priest who hath obtained a more excellent ministry than Aaron, and is the Mediator of this covenant, which is better than that of Moses, and which is established upon better promises.
Here let it be observed also that this christian dispensation of the covenant of grace, which is called the second or new covenant, is not only better than the mere outward covenant of Sinai, or Jewish law of works, by the observance whereof the Jews were to obtain temporal blessings; but it is better than the whole dispensation of Moses, even as including in it the spiritual constitution or covenant of grace; it is better than all the former dispensations of this covenant of grace that God ever gave to men; and that will appear in the following particulars :
I. "The christian dispensation, or the New Testament, though it be a rich discovery of grace, yet it contains the fairest and fullest representation of the moral law. That law which is of eternal obligation upon all mankind, is more particularly explained here than in any of the former dispensations. The beauties of holiness which run through this law, shine with a fairer light under the gospel of Christ. The duties of worship, obedience and submission which we owe to God; the duties of justice, truth, and love which we owe to our neighbour; and the duty of sobriety and temperance which we owe to ourselves, are set forth more at large in the New Testament by the apostles; Jesus Christ having begun this work in his excellent sermon on the mount, in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Matthew. Here the commands of the law of God are represented in their full extent, as they require the obedience of the heart as well as of the life, as they relate to our inward thoughts
and affections as well as outward actions. As for the doctrine and duty of christian love, forbearance, and forgiveness of enemies, and a readiness to return good for evil, it is either raised to higher degrees than before, or at least it is explained in a more spiritual and sublimer sense than the Jews were ever acquainted with, and enforced by superior motives, and through the aids of divine grace thousands of christians have lived honourably in the practice of it.
II. "In the christian dispensation the gospel or covenant of grace is revealed more perfectly and plainly than ever before; not in obscure expressions, in types and carnal metaphors, but in its own proper form and language, that is, as a covenant relating to things spiritual and eternal. Every covenant between God and man, in the most complete sense of the word, implies some engagements on our side, which are appointed duties, and some engagements on God's side, which are promised blessings. Now in both these respects the covenant of grace is revealed in the New Testament in a much more plain and express manner than in former dispensations. The blessings of the covenant of grace are regeneration or a change of heart, pardon of sin, justification, and acceptance with God, adoption into his family, whereby we are made his children, sanctification of our natures, or being renewed after the image of God, assistance to perform duties and support under troubles, comfort in life and death, and everlasting joy in another world in the presence of God and our blessed Saviour, These are most plainly described in the New Testament. The duties of this covenant are faith or trust in a Messiah, who is much better known now having actually appeared in the flesh, unfeigned repentance toward God, confession of sin, converse with God in secret prayer, love to God as a Father, delight in him, joyful hope in his promised mercy, zeal for his honour, and sincere obedience arising from a principle of faith and love. All these are more expressly required in our gospel.
I grant that the chief of these things were contained also in the former dispensations, particularly the Jewish; but many of them were there veiled under types and figures and dark shadows; so that the Jews were ready to take up with these shadows instead of the substance. And besides these spiritual promises and precepts of the gospel were then mixed with so mony carnal commandments and temporal promises of the Sinai-covenant, that the Jews knew not well how to distinguish them: They were too often ready to neglect the inward and spiritual constitution or covenant of grace, that ran through all the dispensations of God, as well as the more spiritual duties of the moral law; they were ever mistaking their covenant of Sinai, which consist
ed of so many political and ceremonial, as well as moral precepts and temporal promises, for the very covenant of grace and salvation itself: And accordingly, by an outward observance of these precepts, they hoped for the pardon of all their sins, and eternal life. This was the mistake into which they were always running, and which kept them from receiving the gospel of Christ.
But now the christian dispensation sets the covenant of grace and salvation before us, in its own spiritual language, in a clear and distinct light, and without a veil; so that we plainly behold the free and rich grace of God in this covenant, how it has wrought in every age, towards the recovery of mankind from the ruins of our fall, how it proceeds from step to step in its own glorious way, how it works to restore us to the favour of God and his image, and becomes more abundantly effectual to turn the hearts of sinful men to God, and bring them to blessedness. The vision of grace and glory in the New Testament is written so plain, that he that runs may read it; the high way of repentance, faith and holiness, which leads to eternal life, is laid so open that the stranger and wayfaring man, though a fool shall not err therein; as the prophet Isaiah hath foretold; Isa. xxxv. 8. And it may observed, that when the ancient prophets speak of these evangelical duties and blessings in the clearest language, it is generally in some prediction of the christian age, and the happiness of this last dispensation.
III." The rites and ceremonies which are superadded to the covenant of grace, in the christian dispensation of it, are much preferable to those in former times, and that in three respects; they are fewer, they are clearer, and they are much more easy.'
They are much fewer than the ceremonies of the Jewish state. What a multitude of ceremonies were they incumbered with? What a numerous train of actions and abstinences are required in the law of Moses? What washings and sprinklings, what numerous purifications by water and blood, what continual danger of new defilements at home and abroad, by night and by day, so that man, woman and child were forced to be upon a perpetual watch lest they should be polluted in their food, in their raiment, in their habitation, or in the common actions of life! And what innumerable ceremonies of worship belonged to the service of the tabernacle and temple! What frequent journies from one end of the land to the other, and multiplied forms of religion at the tabernacle? Whereas in the christian state there are but two ceremonies appointed, viz. that of baptism and the Lord's supper. There is no danger that the spiritual part of it should be overwhelmed, buried and lost in the multitude of rites