We state this once because we are indeed of the conviction that here is one of the most fundamental principles of a Scriptural and Reformed presentation, and because a thoroughly unscriptural and un-Reformed view has already for a long time found acceptance among our people. The so-called covenant of works is then a kind of agreement between God and Adam, an agreement which really was concluded in an altogether mechanical manner. That agreement consists, then,—according to many a catechism book,—in a condition, a promise, and a threat. The condition, then, is obedience, consisting especially in this, that Adam might not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The promise is supposed to have been that Adam would be able to merit eternal life in case he obeyed. And the threat consisted in this, that he would surely die in case he transgressed God’s commandment. Over against this mechanical conception of God’s covenant, we propose that the covenant consists essentially in a relation of friendship, that God the Lord had placed Adam in Paradise in that relation to Himself already through his very creation after the image of God, and that in that relation he possessed life and was blessed. Of course, Adam would be able to keep life in the way of obedience: for only in that way could he enjoy the favor of God. He was the servant of the Lord. Servant of God he was with his entire existence and with all things. Hence, he was God’s prophet, God’s priest, God’s king. If you consider his friend-servant relationship from the viewpoint of his intellectual faculty and life, then he stood in Paradise as God’s prophet. With all his knowledge he was servant. And as that knowing servant, he had the calling to know his God rightly in all the works of His hands and then to speak of Him and His virtues, to magnify Him, and to stand and to fight for His honor. If you view that friend-servant relationship from the viewpoint of the life of his will and his desires, then Adam was God’s priest. For also with all the life of his heart and will he was servant of God. And as such he had the calling to will and to love the Lord his God and to consecrate himself, with all things, to God. And, finally, if you consider that same servanthood from the viewpoint of Adam’s power in relation to the creation in the midst of which he was placed, then he was king under God. Also as king he was servant. And it was his calling in the first Paradise to reign over all the works of God’s hand in the name of the Lord and under Him and according to His ordinances. As such Adam’s place in God’s covenant required absolute and unconditional obedience. If he became disobedient, then he hereby broke God’s covenant, as far as he was concerned; then he forfeited God’s favor and he lost life; then he must surely die. To this must be added that Adam must be all this and must live in this position in an antithetical manner. The choice for his God must stand thus before his consciousness, that at the same time he chose against Satan; he must serve God with rejection of all that was not according to the will of God. For this reason the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was there. For this reason also the temptation through the serpent took place. Adam stood as the friend-servant of God in Paradise the First for the antithesis, and as of the party of God he lived the life of the covenant antithetically.
Now Adam stood in that covenant of God with and for and at the head of his seed, the human race. The human race does not consist of a mass of individuals, wherein each one stands and falls his own master. Thus it is, as far as we can infer, in the angel-world. There is indeed also in the world of the angels order and rank and affinity, but not in the same manner as is true among mankind. God did not create the angels in one; but He did thus create the human race. God created the human race in Adam, presently forms the woman out of that one man, and then allows the whole human race to come forth, not through creation, but through organic development out of that one human pair. The entire race of men, therefore, is literally in that first pair of human beings and comes forth organically out of them. Adam, therefore, also stands in the first Paradise as the bearer of the human nature. He is that as the root of the entire organism of our race. All that shall ever blossom forth on the tree of our race and that shall come to manifestation in the life of the race is present in him as in a seed, and comes forth from him as from the root. It was indeed all present in him; but in Adam personally all this could never develop and manifest itself. Only then, when out of him the human nature would unfold and reveal itself and be borne by thousands and millions of human individuals, would it develop itself in all its riches of gifts and powers. And in connection with all this, the first Adam stands in God’s covenant also as the head of our race in the judicial sense of the word. He represents our race before the face of God. There is in our race not only an organic unity and affinity, but also a judicial solidarity, which finds its bond in the first man as he stands at the head of all before God. All this is evidently the truth as it is revealed to us in Scripture and as it is confessed by the Reformed fathers, and is also the testimony of history and experience. As far as the latter is concerned, history and experience teach that not one man, either presently living or ever having lived, is good and without sin. This is simply an undeniable fact. To want to explain this fact from a once-given bad example, as the Pelagians would have it, is not only altogether too superficial, but it is also not in harmony with the experience of all ages. It is simply not true that human nature improves itself through a better example or in the midst of a more favorable environment. In fact, the contrary is true. No, the nature itself has become corrupt, and that, too, in the one man who was the bearer of the entire human nature. Only this explains the universality of sin and corruption. But what is more, thus the Scriptures instruct us. For we are conceived and born in sin and iniquity, and the imagination of the man’s heart is wicked from his youth up. And all this Holy Writ explains by teaching us that all have sinned through the one man, and that through the disobedience of that one man guilt has come upon all men unto condemnation. And all this is only true if both in the judicial and the organic sense of the word the human race is included and comprehended in the first man Adam. Hence, Adam stands in God’s covenant with and for and at the head of his seed, the entire race of men.