“The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he has been please to express by way of covenant (I Sam. 2:25; Job 9:32-33; 22:2-3; 35:7-8; Pss. 113:5-6; 100:2-3; Is. 40:13-17; Hos. 6:5; Lk. 17:10; Acts 17:24-25).” The Fathers recognized that there is ample scriptural proof that God established the human race in a covenant relationship with himself through its head – Adam. However, it includes more than the human creatures, it includes all creatures. When they indicated that a reasonable creature owes obedience, they focused on that central core of being human – being of a rational mind to in fact see the reasonableness of obeying the Creator. For this reason many choose to describe this first covenant as ‘the covenant of creation’.1
This is certainly what is implied in the first section of this chapter. However, it has also come to be called, as here in the second section, a covenant of works, given the probationary law test which was imposed upon the head of creation – humanity in Adam.2“The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works (Gal. 3:12), wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity (Rom. 5:12-20; 10:5), upon condition of perfection and personal obedience (Gen. 2:17; Gal. 3:10).” “As Christ was a federal head, representing all his spiritual seed in the covenant of grace, so Adam was a federal head representing all his natural seed in the covenant of works (I Cor. 15:45-47).”3 Although it is called a covenant of works, that is as to the requirement of perfect obedience. However, there is a sense in which any move on God’s part to establish a relationship with his creatures is itself a condescension of grace. Life eternal would also been a gift, if we had obeyed.4
Obedience to our Creator is but our duty, whether in the covenant of works or that of grace. Clark also brings out the point that, should one complain that they were thus regarded as acting through Adam as the covenantal head of humanity, “God could have tested each descendent personally in exactly the same way he decided to test Adam. God did not have to grant eternal life to succeeding generations merely because Adam obeyed.”5 Clark also points out the biblical conception on how sin is thus transmitted to Adam’s posterity. Some teach that our sinful nature is passed on by the simple act of pro-creation, that is physically. This is but one example where the church still retains a kind of pagan dualism, where the body is evil in and of itself. However, as Reformed, we know that the whole of our constitution is affected. Rather, we sinned in Adam by way of he representing us as our covenantal head, so that at that moment we became sinners in him.
“This idea brings to our attention the interesting relation that God established between Adam and his posterity. It was not merely that Adam was their father. He was, in addition, their representative. His act was to be counted as their act. He acted for and instead of them. This relation was mentioned in the reference to imputed guilt in Chapter VI, and further explanations will be given when we arrive at the relation between Christ and those who believe on him. Chapter VI also made it quite clear that Adam did not fulfill the covenant of works. He disobeyed, and thereby made necessary a second covenant, if anyone was to be saved.”6 Hodge makes the same point. “This covenant was also in its essence a covenant of grace, in that it graciously promised life in the society of God as the freely-granted reward of an obedience already unconditionally due.”7
Shaw makes the following point, should anyone be so proud as to think that they may have acted differently. “Adam, being made after the image of God, was as capable of keeping the covenant as any of his posterity could ever be supposed to be; that he should fulfill it was as much his personal interest as that of any of his descendants.”8It should also be noted that the tree that our head was commanded not to eat from was described as “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”(Gen. 2:9). This is crucial to understand. The chief point of contact, and here of the one command of our probation, was a clearly epistemological one, with its concomitant of ethics. We decided to reject the revelation of the Creator, and in its place we accepted the lies of the Serpent, and reasoning apart from revelation we thus sinned by transgressing God’s law. This continues to be the key issue today.
“Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second (Gen. 3:15; Is. 42:6; Gal. 3:21; Rom. 3:20-21; 8:3), commonly called the Covenant of Grace: whereby he freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved (Mk. 16:15-16; Jn. 3:16; Rom. 10:6, 9; Gal. 3:11); and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe (Ezek. 36:26-27; Jn. 6:44-45; Acts 13:48).” In a similar manner, even though the covenant of grace is called such, it is not to imply that works are not involved in the covenant relationship. However, the requirement of repentance and faith is provided by God as a gift, and so also our works are as a result of God working in and through us by his grace. Here we see that the promise is still life, but it is life which must now be inseparable from salvation.
Van Dixhoorn makes a valuable point here. “From the words ‘requiring them’ and ‘promising…those’ it appears that WCF 7.3 presents the covenant as made with sinners; it does not specify whether the covenant is made with sinners in Christ. In WCF 7.6 it is clear that the substance of the covenant of grace is Christ himself. Where the first covenant is a deep expression of God’s willingness to have fellowship with mere creatures, this second covenant is a staggering display of God’s willingness to forgive and to have fellowship with those who are unworthy.”9 Some would argue that the word covenant does not occur with either of these, but we believe in the trinity, though the word also does not occur in the bible. The point is that all the elements of a covenant are there. Furthermore, salvation is also a trinitarian reality, in that we are given the Holy Spirit that we might be willing.
“When Ezekiel recorded God’s promise of a ‘new heart’ for heartless sinners, he was also told to tell of ‘a new Spirit’ who would be ‘within’ us (Ezek. 36:26). It is by this Spirit that the Father would ‘draw us’ to the waters of salvation, and teach us to come to Christ (John 6:44,45). And remember too that this gift is for those who are ‘ordained unto eternal life’ and nothing less. For in this second covenant, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have offered a relationship to us that will never end.”10 “In this covenant the Mediator assumes in behalf of his elect seed the broken conditions of the old covenant of works precisely as Adam left them. Christ therefore suffered the penalty, and extinguished in behalf of all whom he represented the claims of the old covenant. Subsequently, in the administration and gracious application of this covenant, Christ the Mediator offers the blessings secured by it to all men on the condition of faith.”11
1. ‘The Christ Of The Covenants’ O. Palmer Robertson.
2. The Shorter catechism in fact calls it the covenant of life, since that was the promise held out as a reward for obedience (#12).
3. Shaw, (129)
4. John Murray, ‘The Covenant Of Grace’.
8. (130 Cf. Shaw also makes the point that the fathers rejected the notion of a so-called ‘covenant of redemption’ between the persons of the trinity 131-2. The trinity certainly determined in eternity to establish these covenants, and with respect to the covenant of grace, the roles played by each person 133-)
10. Ibid., (101)
11. Hodge, (125 Cf. WLC Ch. 7)