The Hexaemeron or Creation Week (12): The Creation of Man (5)

We were busy in our previous article with a dis­cussion of the conception known among us as the Covenant of Works. We quoted from Prof. Berkhof and presented his Scriptural foundation for this doc­trine. In this article we wish to continue with this discussion and will first of all quote once more from the same author. In this quotation he presents to us the various elements of the covenant of works.

Quotation from Prof. Berkhof

“The following elements must be distinguished.

1.  The Contracting Parties. On the one hand there was the triune God, the Creator and Lord, and on the other hand, Adam as His dependent creature. A twofold relationship between the two should be distinguished:

a.  The natural relationship. When God created man, He by that very fact established a natural rela­tionship between Himself and man. It was a relationship like that between the potter and the clay, be­tween an absolute sovereign and a subject devoid of any claim. In fact, the distance between the two was so great that these figures are not even an adequate expression of it. It was such that a life in com­munion with each other seemed to be out of the ques­tion. As the creature of God man was naturally un­der the law, and was in duty bound to keep it. And while transgression of the law would render him liable to punishment, the keeping of it would. not constitute an inherent claim to a reward. Even if he did all that was required of him, he would still have to say, I am but an unprofitable servant, for I have merely done that which it was my duty to do. Under this purely natural relationship man could not have merited any­thing. But though the infinite distance between God and man apparently excluded a life of communion with each other, man was created for just such com­munion, and the possibility of it was already given in his creation in the image of God. In this natural relationship Adam was the father of the human race.

b.  The covenant relationship. From the very be­ginning, however, God revealed Himself, not only as an absolute sovereign and lawgiver, but also as a loving Father, seeking the welfare and happiness of His dependent creature. He condescended to come down to the level of man, to reveal Himself as a Friend, and to enable man to improve his condition in the way of obedience. In addition to the natural rela­tionship He, by a positive enactment, graciously established a covenant relationship. He entered into a legal compact with man, which includes all the re­quirements and obligations implied in the creaturehood of man, but at the same time added some new elements. (1) Adam was constituted the representa­tive head of the human race, so that he could act for all his descendants. (2) He was temporarily put on probation, in order to determine whether he would willingly subject his will to the will of God. (3) He was given the promise of eternal life in the way of obedience, and thus by the gracious disposition of God acquired certain conditional rights. This covenant en­abled Adam to obtain eternal life for himself and for his descendants in the way of obedience.

2.  The Promise of the Covenant. The great promise of the covenant of works was the promise of eternal life. They who deny the covenant of works generally base their denial in part on the fact that there is no record of such a promise in the Bible. And it is perfectly true that Scripture contains no explicit promise of eternal life to Adam. But the threatened penalty clearly implies such a promise. When the Lord says, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” his statement clearly implies that, if Adam refrains from eating, he will not die, but will be raised above the possibility of death. The implied promise certainly cannot mean that, in the case of obedience, Adam would be permitted to live on in the usual way, that is, to continue the ordi­nary natural life, for that life was his already in virtue of his creation, and therefore could not be held out as a reward for obedience. The implied promise evidently was that of life raised to its highest develop­ment of perennial bliss and glory. Adam was indeed created in a state of positive holiness, and was also immortal in the sense that he was not subject to the law of death. But he was only at the beginning of his course and did not yet possess the highest pri­vileges that were in store for man. He was not yet raised above the possibility of erring, sinning, and dying. He was not yet in possession of the highest degree of holiness, nor did he enjoy life in all its fullness. The image of God in man was still limited by the possibility of man’s sinning against God, changing from good to evil, and becoming subject to the power of death. The promise of life in the covenant of works was a promise of the removal of all the limita­tions of life to which Adam was still subject, and of the raising of his life to the highest degree of perfec­tion. When Paul says in Rom. 7:10 that the com­mandment was unto life, he means life in the fullest sense of the word. The principle of the covenant of works was: the man that does these things shall live thereby; and this principle is reiterated time and again in Scripture, Lev. 18:5; Ezek. 20:11, 13, 20; Luke 10:28; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12.

3.  The Condition of the Covenant. The promise in the covenant of works was not unconditional. The condition was that of implicit and perfect obedience. The divine law can demand nothing less than that, and the positive command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, relating as it did, to a thing indifferent in itself, was clearly a test of pure obedience in the absolute sense of the word. Man was, of course, also subject to the moral law of God, which was written on the tablets of his heart. He knew this by nature, so that it did not have to be revealed supernaturally, as the special test was. Es­sentially, the moral law, as Adam knew it, was un­doubtedly like the ten commandments, but the form was different. In its present form the moral law pre­supposes a knowledge of sin, and is therefore pri­marily negative; in Adam’s heart, however, it must have had a positive character. But just because it was positive, it did not bring to his consciousness the possibility of sin. Therefore a negative command­ment was added. Moreover, in order that the test of Adam might be a test of pure obedience, God deemed it necessary to add to the commandments of which Adam perceived the naturalness and reasonableness, a commandment which was in a certain sense arbitrary and indifferent. Thus the demands of the law were, so to say, concentrated on a single point. The great question that had to be settled was, whether man would obey God implicitly or follow the guidance of his own judgment. Dr. Bavinck says: “Het proefgebod belichaamde voor hem (Adam) het dilemma: God of de mensch, Zijn gezag of eigen inzicht, onvoorwaardelijke gehoorzaamheid of zelfstandig onderzoek, geloof of twijfel (the probationary command embodied for him (Adam) the dilemma: God or man, His authority or own opinion, unconditional obedience or independent inquiry, faith or doubt—translation of undersigned, H.V.)”

4.  The Penalty of the Covenant. The penalty that was threatened was death, and what this means can best be gathered from the general meaning of the term as it is used in Scripture, and from the evils that came upon the guilty in the execution of the penalty. Evidently death in the most inclusive sense of the word is meant, including physical, spiritual, and eternal death. The fundamental Scriptural idea of death is not that of extinction of being, but that of separation from the source of life, and the resulting dissolution or misery and woe. Fundamentally, it con­sists in the separation of the soul from God, which manifests itself in spiritual misery, and finally termi­nates in eternal death. But it also includes the sepa­ration of body and soul and the consequent dissolu­tion of the body. Undoubtedly the execution of the penalty began at once after the first transgression. Spiritual death entered instantly, and the seeds of death also began to operate in the body. The full execution of the sentence, however, did not follow at once, but was arrested, because God immediately in­troduced an economy of grace and restoration.

5.  The Sacrament (s) of the Covenant. We have no definite information in Scripture respecting, the sacrament(s) or seal(s) of this covenant. Hence there is a great variety of opinions on the subject. Some speak of four: the tree of life, the tree of the knowl­edge of good and evil, paradise, and the sabbath; others of three: the two trees and paradise; still oth­ers of two: the tree of life and paradise, and still oth­ers of one: the tree of life. The last opinion is the most prevalent one, and would seem to be the only one to find any support in Scripture. We should not think of the fruit of this tree as magically connected with the gift of life. In all probability it must be conceived of as an appointed symbol or seal of life. Consequently, when Adam forfeited the promise, he was debarred from the sign. So conceived the words of Gen. 3:22 must be understood sacramentally.”—thus far the quotation of Berkhof.