We concluded our previous article, in which we were discussing the theory of the covenant of works, with the statment that we had more objections against this theory. In that previous article we had remarked, firstly, that this theory is not Confessional, and, secondly, that it is not taught literally in the Word of God.
Our third objection against this conception is that it is not true that it is taught in the Word of God by implication. It is stated, e.g., that the penalty of death which the Lord announced to Adam implies the promise or eternal life, implies that had Adam remained obedient he would have lived and attained unto eternal life. In this connection our attention is called to various passages of the Word of God, such as Lev. 18:5 and Romans 5:15-19. In the first passage we read: “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.” Must this text be understood as proclaiming a conditional promise of life, so that life will be bestowed upon us if and when and upon the condition of our believing? Mind you, this text is quoted in support of the theory of the covenant of works! But, is it true that we shall live if and after we do the Lord’s commandments? But, how can this be? For, in the first place, the promise of eternal life as bestowed upon the sinner does not rest upon or is not conditioned in any sense of the word by his believing, but it rests solely upon the eternal love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, our Lord. This explains why the exhortation to believe and to walk in the commandments of the Lord can come unto the Church of the living God. And the child of God can experience the desire to walk in the commandments of the Lord, also consciously, only in and because of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Never does he receive the promise of eternal life and the assurance of that promise because of his faith but only because of the love of God in Christ Jesus, his Lord. How, therefore, is it possible that a text such as Lev. 18:5, which comes to redeemed Israel, can be quoted in support of a covenant of works established with Adam outside of the Lord Jesus Christ? And, secondly, why is it true that “which if a man do, he shall live therein”? Is it not true that the doing of God’s commandments is life, this doing as such? Indeed, if a man do them he shall live in them. The doing of God’s commandments itself is life, now and forever. And, therefore, doing the commandments of the Lord, he shall also live forever, inasmuch as he who does the Lord’s commandments hath eternal life abiding in him and cannot perish even forevermore. Another passage which is quoted in support of the theory of the covenant of works is Romans 5:15-19, and we quote, “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one, many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses unto justification. For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Hence, from the fact that because of the sin of the one man all men have died it is concluded that, had he remained obedient, he and all men would have attained unto eternal life. This reasoning is hardly logical. First, to say that Adam would have continued to live had he remained obedient is surely not the same as to teach that he would have attained unto eternal life. Eternal life in Scripture is not merely life, spiritual life, fellowship with God. Adam did not need to attain unto this; he already possessed it. Eternal life in holy writ is this spiritual fellowship and communion with God in eternal and heavenly perfection. This Adam did not possess.
And to say that he could have attained unto it in the way of obedience certainly cannot be based upon the mere supposition that the penalty of death implies the promise of this heavenly and eternal life. For, in the second place, to declare to a man, who has violated the law and therefore merited punishment, that he would have been given a great reward had he not transgressed is absurd. Would Adam earn something extra (eternal life, which he did not possess) simply by remaining obedient? This is nowhere taught in Scripture, and is certainly not implied in Romans 5:15-19. All men die because of the sin of one man. They all die because Adam is their head. That is Adam’s place in holy writ, and in the counsel of the living God. In sinning he represents all men. To say that this implies that he could have therefore merited eternal and heavenly life for himself and all his posterity does not at all follow. Romans 5 surely does not establish this thought.
Fourthly, this idea of a covenant of works contradicts one of the Aost fundamental principles of holy writ. It is certainly a fundamental conception of holy writ that man can never merit anything before the Lord. This the exponents of “Common Grace” will acknowledge, but they hasten to add that God has graciously affixed to Adam’s obedience the reward of eternal life. But where do we ever read in Scripture that man, in the way of obedience, can ever gain anything above that which he already possesses? To the contrary, we read in Luke 17:10: “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” This text surely teaches us that even when we do all that is commanded of us we remain unprofitable servants. And, this lies in the nature of the case. Is not all that we have the Lord’s? We read in Ps. 24:1-2: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For He hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.” Hence, all that we possess is the Lord’s, our gold and silver and all our possessions. Besides, we ourselves are the Lord’s, are creatures of His hand. We can therefore never present anything unto the Lord, give Him something. Besides, to serve and glorify the Lord is our obligation and duty. Having, therefore, done all that which was required of us we remain unprofitable servants, inasmuch as we did our duty and nothing more. To have done less would have involved us in shortcomings, in sin. This certainly also applies to Adam. In fact, it is not only true that this, generally speaking, applied to Adam, but never was a man more conscious of this fact than the father of the human race. He certainly was conscious, as no other man could be, of the fact that the Lord had created him. Indeed, how conscious Adam must have been of this fact! He was not born but created. No creature had as yet been born. Every creature, all things had been given existence through the word of God’s mouth, the word of God’s almighty power. Adam certainly stood before the Lord in all the consciousness of a creature, as the creature before his creator as the vessel before the potter, as the finite before the infinite Lord. Besides, he was created in all righteousness and holiness, with the love of God in his heart and soul and mind. How great the creator of heaven and earth must have appeared to the creature of His hand! The truth of Luke 17:10 certainly lived in Adam’s soul! And the presentation that man can attain unto something extra in the way of obedience is surely a violation of this particular Word of God.
Finally, and surely not the least, the “covenant of works” is a denial of the Christ, the Mediator divinely ordained from before the foundation of the world. On the one hand, what a pity, if Adam could have attained unto eternal and heavenly life and obtained it also for all his descendents, that this did not occur! I say: if Adam could have obtained this for himself and all his descendents. Indeed, if all that Christ does is to attain unto that which could also have been realized by Adam, then this entire vale of tears and sorrow and death is surely an accident, or, if you will, surely unnecessary and therefore eternally regrettable! A thing is surely unnecessary when something could have been realized without it! Had Adam remained standing and obedient to the divine command, thus the reasoning runs, he and all his posterity would have attained unto eternal and heavenly glory. Why then, this vale of tears and sorrow and death? And let us by all means not overlook this tremendous consideration. This worldly sorrow and grief is not to be minimized. Man already has had almost six thousand years of unceasing misery and trouble. Sickness and death, agony of body and soul, wars and rumours of war, misery of every description has plagued and pursued mankind relentlessly throughout the ages. What a pity if all this could have been avoided and averted! However, this in itself is already inconceivable. There are no accidents or incidentals or unnecessary things with the Lord. He is the God of infinite understanding and wisdom! There is therefore a divine reason, a divine purpose for all things. His counsel, we read, shall stand and the Lord shall do all His good pleasure. His counsel shall always stand, and He is always doing His good pleasure. Supralapsarianism? The Word of God is certainly not infralapsarian. The Lord makes no mistakes. The Lord never does half work. His work is never patchwork. Jehovah never retraces His steps and therefore does nothing unnecessarily. This very thought is repulsive, a reflection upon the name of the alone and eternally blessed God. The wisdom of the Lord certainly implies that He has adapted the best means unto the best end. Surely, one can hardly believe that the everlasting Father, full of mercy and love and compassion, would permit an ages long night of misery and sorrow for the people whom He loves, if the same eternal glory could have been reached without all this sorrow and misery and agony and death. However, in connection with this theory of the covenant of works and the possibility for Adam to attain unto eternal and heavenly life there is another point worthy of consideration. It is declared that the father of the human race could have attained unto this heavenly perfection for himself and all his descendents. But, what room is there, then, in this presentation for the doctrine of election and reprobation? Adam is presented with the choice to obtain eternal life for himself and all his descendents? But how can this be? Then sin would never have entered into this world? And, the Lord elected and reprobated from before the foundation of the world? How must we harmonize these conflicting ideas? God presented Adam with this choice, did He not? And the Lord means what He says, does He not? This means that the Lord well-meaningly presents a possibility to Adam which is in irreconcilable conflict with His counsel of election and reprobation. This is impossible. Adam represents the human race only in his fall. And this is Adam’s purpose in the divine scheme of things. And this is not yet all! The theory of a covenant of works is a denial of the Christ. The exponents of an offer of salvation lay all emphasis, do they not, upon the well-meaning character of this offer. When God, therefore, revealed to Adam that it was possible for him to obtain eternal and heavenly life for himself and all his descendents in the way of perfect obedience, the Lord certainly meant this, did he not? But how is this possible? Do we not read in Ps. 2:6-9: “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the’decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” And, in Eph. 1:8-12 we read this amazing passage: “Wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him: In Whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will: That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ.” And, who is not acquainted with that glorious passage in Col. 1:15-20, and we again quote: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature: For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church: Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” Christ is the heir of the world, is He not, and this from before the foundation of the world. The Lord Jesus Christ is He through whom we must receive everlasting life and glory. It is Christ, Who, according to the mystery of God’s will, must gather together all things that are in heaven and that are upon the earth. Not Adam! Christ is He who must build God’s Church out of and upon the divinely willed and effected ruins of sin and death and darkness. Indeed, nothing is an accident. All things occupy the place which the blessed God has ordained for them. We cannot and therefore may not say it differently. This truth, and this truth alone, gives the Church of the living God comfort in the midst of all the trials and sorrows of this present evil world and dispensation. To say that the possibility existed for Adam to attain unto eternal life in the way of obedience is the same as saying that the possibility existed that eternal life would not be realized for us in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, the covenant of works denies this glorious truth, presents Christ as succeeding only after Adam failed.
Adam’s relation to God was a covenant relation.
We need not at this time enter into a detailed discussion of the idea of the covenant. It was not too long ago that we devoted several articles to this subject which we view as the glorious heritage of our Protestant Reformed Churches. We believe that the covenant is the relationship of living friendship between God and His elect people in Christ Jesus, which the Lord has eternally willed for them from before the foundation of the world, has established and founded it in the death and resurrection of the Lord, and which He realized by irresistible grace in the hearts of His elect people from generation to generation, usually in their infancy. However, we need not again enter into a detailed discussion of this fundamental truth. At this time we merely wish to emphasize our covenant conception as it is based upon the creation of Adam and the relation wherein he stood to the living God. To do so, however it is well to bear in mind the definition of the covenant as a relationship of living friendship. As has been stated previously, there are fundamentally but two possible conceptions of the covenant. According to the one conception the covenant is the end itself, whereas according to the other view the covenant is the means unto the end. Whether one views the covenant as identical with the promise or as the way of salvation or as an agreement or pact between God and man, the fact remains that all these various views consider the covenant as a means to an end, not the end itself. We, however, believe that the covenant is not merely something incidental, merely a means unto an end, but the end itself, a relationship of living friendship between God and His people. The fundamental idea of the covenant is that of friendship, the very essence of the salvation which the Lord has willed for His elect own in Christ Jesus.
Adam’s relationship to God was surely such a covenant relationship. Mind you, Adam was created by God. He was created, divinely placed in the relationship. God did not enter with Adam into any kind of an agreement or pact. Adam did not, for example, promise that he would serve the Lord with all his heart and mind and soul and strength, and God, in turn did not promise to bless Adam if he would remain faithful. We do not read in the Word of God that the father of the human race consented to be God’s servant, that he voluntarily entered into this agreement which, then, was sovereign in the sense that it came wholly from the Lord. Adam was simply created the Lord’s servant. He had no choice in the matter. This is and must be a self-evident truth. It is simply a fact that the father of the human race owed his existence solely to the Lord who created Him. Besides, Adam was created in the image of God. He was created in true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. He was created so that he reflected the perfection of the living God in a creaturely way, was adapted to the service of the living God in distinction from every other living creature about him. As he came forth from the hand of his maker he stood with his face toward the living God, knew the Lord, was filled with the love of God, was simply created God’s friend-servant in the midst of the world. Besides, how could the living God and His finite creature ever enter into a reciprocal agreement? Does man ever determine whether he can or should serve the living God? So we understand that when we say that the covenant is a relationship of living friendship between God and man that Adam was God’s friend-servant, we certainly may base this conception upon the creation of Adam in the state of rectitude. The question of serving the Lord was never an issue with the first man. He served and loved the Lord his God spontaneously. And he did so because of his creation by the living God. Hence, this relationship of living friendship was indeed a fact in the state of rectitude, the fruit of God’s creation of man. Adam did not enter into this friendship; he was created the friend-servant of Jehovah.