Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
Having briefly considered the various aspects of Bible truth concerning the doctrine of man, or anthropology, we would normally proceed now to the third area of study in Reformed doctrine, which is Christology, the doctrine concerning the Christ. But before moving on to that area of study, there is one other truth that I would treat under the doctrine of man. I refer to the doctrine of the antithesis.
The antithesis, which I will define and explain presently, is not usually given separate treatment in the study of Reformed doctrine. It is, however, a critical truth that presses upon the very lives of the children of God.
We could, I suppose, discuss the antithesis when we treat the Reformed doctrine of sanctification. It is a truth that comes to expression in our lives as redeemed saints. But it is not without reason that we treat it now. The antithesis, after all, was established by God at creation.
The Meaning of the Antithesis
The word “antithesis” is not a term found in Scripture, but a term that expresses a biblical truth. The word “antithesis” comes from two words-“anti,” which means “against,” and “thesis,” or “that which is set forth.” The antithesis is a contrasting position.
In terms of Bible doctrine, we usually speak of the antithesis as it applies to man’s life and calling in the world. God has willed that man’s calling in the world have not only a positive, but also a negative aspect.
But what we must realize is that the antithesis did not come into existence after the fall, but before. It stands connected with God’s own revelation of Himself at the very beginning. The truth of the antithesis, therefore, is intricately connected with all theology.
The thesis – that which is set forth – is exactly the Word of God concerning Himself.
God speaks. He speaks eternally. He speaks concerning Himself. Within His own Triune Being, among the three Persons of that holy Trinity, God bears testimony’ concerning Himself, His will, His perfection, His glory.
But it also pleased God to reveal Himself to a creature outside of Himself. That was His own good pleasure, according to Ephesians, chapter 1. It was not that He needed man. But out of His own sovereign good pleasure God willed to reveal Himself to the creature of His own making, man. He willed to do so in Christ.
God reveals Himself in such a way that His glory is seen in all its brilliance. He will be seen as God, who is God alone.
How does God do that?
We might ask another question by way of illustration? If you have a flashlight that you have not used for a while, and you want to check out the power of the batteries and the brightness of the light, what is the best way to do that? The best way is not to go outside into the bright sunshine and shine the beam of that flashlight against the bright white siding of your house. You likely will not even see the light. Rather you will go into a dark place and turn on that light to see its brilliance in contrast to the darkness.
God, who is light, and in whom is no darkness at all (I John 1:5), determined that the glorious light of His infinite perfections would best be seen against the background of darkness.
He indicated His purpose already in the very first day of creation. Out of the darkness of His first creative handiwork, God said, “Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness” (Gen. 1:3, 4).
In other words, God willed the existence of that darkness in order to say “No” to it and to reveal that in Him there is no darkness at all.
God creates the antithesis.
God created that antithesis also for Adam, that Adam might see all the more clearly His glory, and that Adam, seeing God’s glory, might himself show forth the glory of his Creator.
So already in the first paradise, God created two special trees that set forth this fundamental truth of the Christian life – the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. With those trees, distinct from all the other trees of the garden, God gave man the calling to show forth His glory in all its beauty.
The positive side of Adam’s existence was to eat of the tree of life, to enjoy the life and fellowship of Jehovah. He was to live as God’s servant-king in the midst of God’s creation. He was to say “Yes” to God by subduing the earth and exercising dominion over all things and in all relationships of life to God’s glory and in God’s service.
But that in itself was not enough.
So God placed in the midst of the garden, in addition to the tree of life, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That tree of knowledge of good and evil was not a poison tree. It was a perfectly good fruit tree, bearing fruit good to the taste and pleasant to the sight. But concerning that tree God said to Adam, “This tree is off limits for you.””Of the fruit of this tree, thou shalt not eat: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” or literally, “dying thou shalt die.”
So that tree represented to Adam this aspect of his calling, that there is always a negative side that contrasts with the positive and that sets the positive in ever clearer light. There is always a “Yes” that proclaims God’s glory. But it does so in contrast to the “No” that serves in a negative way to magnify that glory of God.
If the “Yes” is the thesis, the proclamation of God’s glory, then the “No” is the antithesis. It is to take the contrasting position Over against all that which would oppose God’s glory. To say “yes” to God, it is necessary also to say “no” to sin.
God’s Sovereign Purpose
This implies, of course, that God is sovereign also over sin. When we speak of the antithesis, we are speaking of that which God has given to His people. The antithesis is not the devil’s opposition to God. Antithesis is not dualism, the battle between two opposing powers. God alone is God.
So when God created man and gave man his fundamental calling to love Him, God also determined that the beauty of that life of obedience and the joy of His covenant fellowship should be seen against the dark background of disobedience and death. Sin also serves God’s purpose. The fall of man was under God’s sovereign control and direction and determination. We have spoken of this truth earlier.
Behind it all lies God’s purpose to glorify Himself.When God determined to reveal Himself to man as the covenant God, He determined to reveal Himself as He is-the God of light, the God of infinite perfections, the God of perfect holiness, the God who alone gives life.
Man must understand that life cannot be sustained but by the Word of God’s grace, the Word which proceeds from His mouth, the voice that proclaims His love and fellowship.
That grace of God is revealed most beautifully in this, that God saves sinners, delivering them from the corruption of sin and death into which they willfully plunged themselves.
The God who creates light out of darkness, the God in whom is no darkness at all, is also the God who calls His people out of darkness into His most marvelous light.
Our Antithetical Calling
But with this sharp antithesis established by God from the very beginning there is also pointed application for you and for me. God gives us the calling to express that antithesis in all our life. We must learn to live antithetically. We have a calling to live a life of contrast, the life of pilgrims and strangers, who serve God and not Satan.
We must learn not only to say “Yes” to God, but also to say “No” to all that God says “No” to.
For that is the way of fellowship with the God of the antithesis.