“Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof, were communicated unto the elect in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein he was revealed and signified to be the Seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head, and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world, being yesterday and today the same, and for ever (Gen. 3:15; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 13:8; Rev. 13:8).” The LORD God did not stop the promise of redemption when he clothed Adam and Eve through the substitutionary sacrifice of another. The life taken, the blood shed, and the resulting clothing of Adam and Eve, in place of their own efforts, first spoke to how this relationship would be restored, a type and sacrifice which itself spoke of the promised Seed to come, in that first gospel promise (Gen. 3:15, 21).
Christ came at God’s appointed time (Gal. 4:4), but, as the writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8b). Concerning the fathers inclusion of Revelation 13:8, Van Dixhoorn makes the following point. “Considering the permanent efficacy of Christ’s redemptive work from the earliest times, they thought that one passage of Scripture spoke of a ‘Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ (Rev. 13:8). The passage, however, is better rendered as a warning to ‘everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain’.”1Nevertheless, the truth still remains, that along with the saints under the first covenant, the Christ “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (II Tim. 1:9).
It is understandable that human beings, bound as we are to a world of time and history, should fail to keep in mind, that God, who is eternal, created time when he created the heavens and the earth. “Though four thousand years elapsed before he actually appeared in the flesh, and put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, yet he was exhibited from the beginning of the world, in promises, predictions, and types; and believers under the old Testament were saved by the merit of his sacrifice, as well as those under the New. Abraham ‘rejoiced to see his day’, and was justified in him.”2The idea that the saints under the first covenant could not be saved, and were thus held in some other suspended state, was in part put forward by a misconception of I Peter 3:18-22. “These verses are supposed to say that Jesus, during the three days (he was dead), descended to Noah and other spirits in prison and brought them to heaven.”3
Clark proceeded to give four reasons why this interpretation was erroneous. “First, verse 10 speaks of preaching the gospel, not of releasing spirits. Second, the spirits mentioned seem to be unsaved, not Noah and the Old Testament saints, because it was the gospel that was preached to them. Third, if it were all the Old Testament saints, the specific mention of Noah to the exclusion of later times is inexplicable.” There being also those before Noah. “And fourth, the passage does not say that Jesus preached to anyone during the three days of his entombment. It is rather the Spirit of Christ dwelling in Noah who preached to those who were disobedient in Noah’s day. If it seems strained to say that the Spirit of Christ preached as he dwelt in Noah, return to I Peter 1:11 where other Old Testament prophets are said to have tried to understand what the Spirit of Christ which was in them meant to teach in their prophecies.”4
There is one covenant of grace throughout all ages (WCF VII. 4-6). However, even under the first covenant the saints were given to understand that “God did not regard the Old Testament sacrifices as efficacious in themselves (Ps. 51:16). The very design of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was partly to show that these “could not make him that did the service perfect” (Heb. 9:9) in order that believers might look forward to that one offering by which Christ “hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). The law” (pertaining to the sacrifices) “was a mere shadow (Heb. 10:1) but it was a shadow “of good things to come” and therefore a means by which believers received the benefits of Christ before the work had actually been done.”5The administration of the one covenant of grace in the first covenant was good, but its fulfillment in the new is better. This is the change which the writer to the Hebrews makes his main point (8:1).
2. Shaw, (156)
3. Clark, (101)
4. Ibid., (101)
5. Williamson, (83)