AS man had come under the law of sin and death, it was for the Seed of the woman to deliver him (Gen. 3: 15). He as the God-man was to be brother of every man, the Goel, the Avenger. To Him it belonged to "bruise the serpent's head," and cast him out of the earth, and regain the inheritance Adam had lost. As already pointed out, the Son stands in a twofold personal relation to man and the earth. As the Word, He created them, and when man had sinned, He, as the Word, began the work of redemption. When the fulness of time had come, the Word was made flesh, and the redemptive work assumed a new form. In this form, it is continued until completed, when the glorified Son enters upon His work of new creation.
Redemption is thus a work intermediate between creation and new-creation, the Son being the Father's instrument in all, and from the day of the Fall, though not yet Incarnate, He took the place of the Redeemer.
The work of redemption has five stages: first, from the fall of Adam to Abraham; secondly, the Jewish period; thirdly, the Lord's personal work upon earth; fourthly, His present work from Heaven through His Church; fifthly, His return and rule in His Kingdom, continuing till He gives up His Kingdom to His Father. Then His redemptive work, strictly speaking, will cease; but not His mediatorial, which can never cease. Although He gives up the redemptive office, its end being accomplished, He continues for ever in His offices of Priest and King.
But how could the Son, not having yet assumed human nature, but acting as the Word, carry on His redemptive work? He could not in its first stages appear in His own Person on the earth, and work miracles before the eyes of men, and so prove Himself the Redeemer. The time for this had not come. Yet, though invisible, He could act by angels and men, and through them carry out the Father's purpose. He could also manifest Himself through visible symbols. A first and indispensable step was to show men their sinfulness, their separation from God, and their need of a Mediator. To this end was the rite of sacrifice appointed at the first, and doubtless some other rites of worship were soon added.
It will be well at this point to note how God has adapted the revelations of Himself to men in the several stages of redemption, according to their progressive religious development. It is plain from the Scripture narratives that however high the place of Adam, as the first man, in the Divine purpose, and whatever the knowledge of God given him, there is a development, intellectual and moral, which can be made through experience only; and that his descendants have been enlarging as the centuries have passed, in their comprehension of God's character, and the ways of His dealing with men. As man has a threefold constitution, body, soul, and spirit, so God's revelations have a like successive adaptation. As said by one, "All God's dealings or revelations are addressed to man as a sentient, reasonable, and spiritual creature. . . . There seems to have been a gradual development of the race: first, as a physical and sentient creature; next, as a physical or sentient, and also reasoning creature; and lastly, as a sentient, reasoning, and spiritual creature."
Accepting these three stages of development, the revelations of God will be addressed to man, first, as a sentient being. He will be instructed in a large degree through His senses. Secondly, the revelations will be addressed to him as intellectual, receiving truth through speech, and as capable of abstract reasoning. And finally, to him as spiritual, and able to discern spiritual truths. This progress from the sensible to the spiritual, through the intellectual, is the order both of individual and national development, and it is the order of the three successive dispensations, the Patriarchial, the Jewish, and the Christian. But as man has body, soul, and spirit conjoined, God's revelations at all times embrace all these; but each has its own special period, and the higher dispensation takes into itself the lower. And it is to be noted that the Holy Spirit is in due measure active in all Divine appointments, whether addressed to body, soul, or spirit. In every stage of human history, He has been the Teacher of truth.
From this point of view, we may see in the patriarchal time animal sacrifice as the chief and fitting rite of worship. Of other Divine rites we read nothing definite, although the words "then began men to call upon the name of the Lord" are generally understood as indicating a new step in the worship of God by the children of Seth(Gen. 4: 26). During the patriarchal period, no covenant distinction was made among the families and peoples, and at the end all were involved in the judgment of the Deluge.
In God's later revelation of Himself through Moses to the Hebrews as His covenant people, we see a marked advance, not only in worship, but in the knowledge of His purpose and attributes. Animal sacrifice continued to be the chief rite as pointing to the atoning sacrifice to be offered upon the cross, but with many new forms and ritual additions, each showing forth some special relation of the offerer to God, and his duties to his fellows. To the altar of sacrifice was added the altar of incense, the symbol of prayer, and in the Most Holy Place, God was revealed in the Visible Glory between the Cherubim. But in addition to these appeals to the senses, much instruction was given through the laws and institutions of Moses, as to the character of God, and His purpose. The way was thus prepared for the higher and more spiritual revelations of the prophets, and their teachings respecting the Messiah and His Kingdom.
In God's revelations of Himself after the Son had ascended into Heaven and sent down the Holy Spirit, we find that though the senses and the intellectual faculties are appealed to, the spiritual element is predominant (1 Cor, 2: 12). Material things—water and bread and wine and oil—continue indeed to be used in worship, and truth is addressed to the intellect in the creeds and in preaching and other discourse. But higher than all, and giving life to all, is the spiritual consciousness and apprehension of Divine truth, the fruit of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, for the "Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God."
In considering the redemptive work as a whole, we note that every stage demanded faith, and larger faith with each new and higher stage. But even in the first, it is seen in a large degree. We cannot here enter into details, but there are many incidental proofs that as, on the one hand, there was in the most of Adam's descendants a loss of faith, and consequent growth in wickedness, which at last brought on them the judgment of the Deluge; so, on the other hand, were there those who walked in faith, of one of whom we read that He was taken by God, apparently without passing through death (Gen. 5: 24). Noah is also spoken of as "a righteous man and perfect in his generations," the standard of perfection being the measure of excellence in one stage which prepares for the next (Gen. 6:9). All creature perfection is relative, not absolute.