The late Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
God’s Creation of Man: (4) Created God’s Covenant Friend
It is very evident from Genesis 1:26 that there is a close relation between man’s being created in the image of God and his dominion over the earthly creation. According to this Word of God, we are informed that “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” In verse 28, after we are informed that God created man in His own image, we read: “God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” By this Word of God to man He not only gave to man an external appointment or commission TV have dominion, but this dominion was something that was concreated into man’s very being. Man was made a king. It is his very nature to exercise dominion over the earth.
But as we said, this dominion is closely related to man’s being created in the image and likeness of God. The connection is this, that in his dominion over the earthly creation man was not an independent king, ruling in his own right, but he represented God’s own sovereignty, as God’s image-bearer, in the visible and earthly creation. God’s mandate to man was threefold: 1) he must propagate and fill the earth, 2) he must subdue the earth: he must discover and bring into his service the powers of creation, develop, and use them, and 3) he must have dominion over all the earthly creation, and rule over and care for all creatures. All this he must do as created in the image of God, that is, as filled with the true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. This meant that man was to be busy in the earthly creation as God’s friend-servant, consecrated to his Creator and motivated by the love of God. He must love God, glorify Him, and consecrate all things to Him. He was God’s office-bearer, God’s prophet, priest, and king—in a word, God’s friend-servant. And God was his Friend-Sovereign.
We may sum this all up by saying that Adam was created God’s covenant friend.
It is true that in the opening chapters of Genesis no literal mention is made of this covenant relation. Yet this was man’s high honor and his original distinction. The blessed life of fellowship with God was man’s originally: man was created the friend of God. As often as Scripture speaks of the relation between God and man, it presents the fundamental relation as being properly that of a covenant. The Bible also presents the essence and the heart of that covenant as consisting in friendship. This is directly presupposed in a text like Hosea 6:7, where the Lord accuses His faithless and spiritually adulterous people that “ye like men (or, ‘like Adam’) have transgressed the covenant.” Moreover, it is presupposed in all that we read of God’s dealings with Adam in Paradise. God speaks with Adam as a friend with his friend. He addresses him concerning his lordship over all the earthly creation, gives him a commandment to keep and to dress the garden, as well as concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And Adam hears the Word of God and understands, and he knows God in the wind of the day (Gen. 3:8).
But more than this, salvation is in the Scriptures always presented as the restoration and perfecting of the relation between God and man which was violated and on man’s part breached through sin, and it is consistently presented as the establishment and realization of the covenant of God with man, that is, with His people in Christ Jesus. With the patriarchs, Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and finally Israel, God established His everlasting covenant, according to the Scriptures (Gen. 6:18; Gen. 9:8-17; Gen. 17:7ff.; Gal. 3:15ff.). And His promise, according to Jeremiah 31:31ff., is that He will establish with His people a new covenant, a higher realization of the covenant, based on the blood of Jesus, according to which He will write His law upon their hearts, that all, from the greatest to the smallest, may know Him. Moreover, as often as the Scriptures refer to this covenant—and the passages of Scripture which do this are very numerous—the covenant relation is always presented as consisting essentially in the bond of living fellowship and friendship. In a word, it is this: “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” And when that covenant of God is perfected, we read this in Revelation 21:3: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”
Rather commonly this covenant with Adam is described as a covenant of works. According to this presentation the covenant relation between God and Adam is presented as an arrangement or agreement according to which the first man could have merited and attained to the higher state of eternal life and heavenly glory upon condition of perfect obedience. This covenant was really a means to an end. Adam was free, but he had not attained to the highest possible freedom. He had life, but he did not possess eternal life, the heavenly life of glory. The covenant of works was supposedly a special agreement between God and Adam like a ladder of obedience by which Adam might climb up to the higher and heavenly life of glory.
There are many serious objections to this rather cold and mechanical view of God’s covenant. But we wish to mention just three. 1) The Scriptures know nothing whatsoever of such an agreement. God gave Adam a commandment, yes, but He certainly. did not conclude any kind of bargain in connection with that commandment. God announced to Adam the penalty of death upon disobedience to that commandment not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But it is a faulty inference to conclude from this announced penalty that Adam had the promise of eternal life as the wages of obedience. Conceivably, if Adam had not sinned, he could have lived everlastingly in Paradise, but this is not at all the same as the eternal life of heaven. The Scriptures, therefore, breathe not a word of such a covenant of works.
2) There is the principle objection that man can never merit anything with God, and that all religion that is based upon this notion of human merit is fundamentally corrupt. Our Lord Jesus Christ can, indeed, merit righteousness and eternal life as the Head of His people, but this is only because He is the Son of God. Man is always in a position of obligation to God. He can never merit anything for God nor bring anything to God that is not God’s from the outset. How, then, can he ever claim a reward of merit from the Most High? As the Lord Jesus instructs His disciples concerning this Phariseeistic idea of work-righteousness, so it is: “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all these things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” Man even in the state of rectitude could never do anything extra, anything that was not required of him; and he could never, therefore, earn anything with God.
3) We must remember that eternal life and heavenly glory and the immortality of the resurrection constitute a state of bliss that can be attained only through our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God come in the flesh. The first man, Adam, was of the earth, earthy. He could not possibly reach to heaven. The second man is the Lord from heaven. It is only in and through Him that God’s covenant is raised to the everlasting glory and perfection of heaven.
Rather than this conception of Adam as a wage-earner, we must have the proper idea of Adam as the friend of God, his Creator and Lord.
This relation of friendship between Adam and God subsisted not because of any special agreement or contract, but by virtue of man’s being created in the image of God. This covenant relation was, therefore, not something incidental, and not a means to an end, but it was essential, and it was the living relation of fellowship between God and Adam. This friendship was that living bond of communion, that highest and most perfect form of the bond of love that was based upon the highest possible likeness between two personal beings. It was the reflection of God’s own life. For God is the covenant God in Himself, first of all, and lives a covenant life in Himself, as the Triune God. God is one in Being, but three in Persons. All the three Persons of the Trinity are essentially absolutely alike. They are of one mind and will and love and life. Yet, they are personally distinct, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As such they live the life of most intimate communion with one another in eternal and infinite perfection. They know one another. They have no secrets from one another. They enter perfectly into one another’s mind and will and life. For God is love.
It was of this blessed life and fellowship that God purposed to give His creature a taste. It was of that divine life of perfect friendship that Adam’s relation to God was a reflection. He, too, was made like God, though in a creaturely way: for he was made in God’s own image, in true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. On the basis of this likeness, Adam stood in covenant relation to his Creator. He was the friend of God. His heart was knit to the heart of God. His will was in harmony with the will of God. The most High revealed Himself to Adam, and he entered into God’s counsel. God spoke to Adam, and the latter heard and understood. God did not hide anything from Adam; and Adam had no secrets from God. God opened His heart to Adam, and he tasted the blessedness of God’s favor and lovingkindness which is better than life. God entrusted to Adam the lordship over all the works of His hands in the earthly creation. He was Adam’s benefactor, and filled him with His goodness. And Adam was of the party of the living God, knew God, and glorified and served Him in all the works of His hands. That is the living bond of fellowship in which the first man stood to his God. Adam was God’s covenant friend.
But he was not God’s equal. Friend of God he was, but only as God’s servant. As God’s servant, Adam had work to do, as we have already noted. He was appointed lord of the earthly creation, to rule over it and to develop it in the name of God and in the service of God and to God’s glory. This was his task, a tremendous cultural task in the true sense of the word. His calling was to be God’s servant, God’s representative, God’s superintendent in all the creation—in the garden which he was to dress and to keep, but also in the whole of creation which he was to subdue and rule. But this service he was called to perform as God’s friend, acknowledging God as his Friend-Sovereign. He had no sense of compulsion. There was no special reward for him, nor the need of wages. He was motivated by the willing obedience of love. He served God for God’s sake. There was no conflict in him between his obligation and his inmost desire. That service of God was his delight. The delight of that service was his reward; for in it all he tasted the favor and lovingkindness of his God. Walking with God as His friend, he walked before God as His servant. Adam was the friend-servant of Jehovah!
True, Adam was made a little lower than the angels. He lived the life of covenant fellowship with God on the earthly plane; and the heavenly things were not for him in that original state. Moreover, he was made not so that he could not fall from that blessed state. But withal, he stood originally in that position of perfect happiness with the Lord his Creator; and the consciousness and blessedness of God’s favor was his delight and reward. Such was his highly exalted position.
But as highly as he was exalted, so deeply has man fallen. He did not regard his blessedness and honor. He became unfaithful to his Friend-Sovereign, violated the covenant of friendship, rejected the Word of God for the lie of the devil, and became the enemy of God and the friend of the devil, and the slave of sin.
To be sure, it is still evident that man was originally the image-bearer of God. It is still evident that he was once the lord of creation. Man still multiplies and replenishes the earth. He still attempts to press—and succeeds also in a measure—to press all things into his service. One has only to look at all the man made wonders of modern civilization and all the accomplishments of humanistic culture in our twentieth century for evidence of this. Indeed, man still has dominion and subdues the earth. His accomplishments, even though he has but a remnant of natural light, are startling. But he is no longer the friend-servant of the living God. He exercises dominion as a usurper. He strives to subdue the earth as a rebel and as an alien in God’s house. In his culture he creates for himself an entire world of the lust of the eye and the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. There is only woe and cursing and wrath for such a world that carries out this dominion over all things, but in rebellion against the living God and in the service of sin and corruption. The end of this false culture, this culture of unrighteousness and rebellion, this culture in the vicious circle of vanity, as it shall culminate presently in the reign of Antichrist, is dreadful destruction. For God is not mocked! There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked!
Nevertheless, God maintains His covenant, and He purposes to raise it to the higher level of heavenly and eternal perfection in and through Christ Jesus our Lord. From this point of view the sin and Fall of the first man, Adam, furnishes the occasion for Christ to come, the Lord from heaven, from eternity appointed the Head of God’s eternal covenant of grace with His people. That Christ is the Friend-servant of God par excellence. He became obedient unto the death of the cross, and thus He laid the foundations of God’s eternal tabernacle, the basis of the eternal covenant, in perfect righteousness. He is exalted at the right hand of God, has received the promise of the Spirit, and by His almighty grace He overcomes the power of sin and rebellion in the hearts of His elect covenant people, and renews them unto the eternal life of covenant fellowship with the ever-blessed God.
The result is that they that believe on His name are through His own sovereign grace friends of God once more. They are sorry for their sins, and in this new covenant they have forgiveness in the blood of Jesus. In that same new covenant, they forsake the world, crucify their old nature, and walk in a new and holy life. They have a new delight in the precepts of their God. They again taste the lovingkindness of God that is better to them than life. They are of the party of the living God. They keep the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus in the midst of a world that rebels against Him. They have their part not with the world that passes away. They have their expectation not of this world’s sinful culture. They have their hope fixed not on the things that are below and that perish. They look and pray for the coming again of their Lord from heaven. For they have their hope fixed upon the city that hath foundations and upon the new creation, and they are pilgrims and strangers in the earth, with no continuing place here below. When their Lord shall come again, He shall make all things new and shall forever establish the eternal covenant of friendship in a new heavens and a new earth.