RPM, Volume 17, Number 7, February 8 to February 14, 2015

Systematic Theology

By R. L. Dabney, D. D., LL. D.

Chapter 28: Man's Estate of Holiness and the Covenant of Works

Man's Origin.
Man's Person, Body and Spirit.
In the "Image of God."
Man's Original Righteousness. Concreated.
Views of Pelagians and Socinians, and of Romanists Refuted.
The True View Established.
Natural Relation of Man to God's Will.
Covenant of Works, Proof of its Institution and Extent to Posterity.
The Condition and Seal of the Covenant.
Probation Temporary.
[Lecture 26]

Note: some of the "words" in the original text in unintelligible. We have left the original "words" just as they are presently found in the text.

Section Three—The Condition of Man

Chapter 28: Man's Estate of Holiness and the Covenant of Works

Syllabus for Lecture 26:

1. Was Adam's person constituted of matter and spirit? Wherein consisted the "image of God" in which man was created? Wherein consisted his original righteousness? See Turrettin, Loc. 5, Qu. 10. Dick, Lecture 40. Witsius, Econ Fed, bk. i, ch. 2. Watson's Theo. Inst., ch. 18. Knapp, Chr. Theol., 51-53.

2. Was Adam's original righteousness con-created, or acquired by acting? State the answers of Calvinists and Pelagians, and establish the true one. Turrettin, Loc. 5, Qu. 9, 11; Loc. vi2, Qu. I, 2; Loc. 9, Qu. 2. Hill, bk. 4, ch. 1, 2. Dick, Lecture 40. Watson, ch. 18, I (2). Knapp, 54. Thornwell, Lecture 14, pp. 394-end.

3. What was Adam's natural relation to God's law? Turrettin, Loc. 5, Qu. 12. Thornwell, Lect. 11 and 12. Witsius, bk. i, ch. 5, 22, and bk. i, ch. 4 1-5. Dick, Lecture 44. Watson, ch. 18, 1.

4. Did God place man under a Covenant of Works? And did Adam therein represent his posterity?
Turrettin, Loc. vi2, Qu. 3, 6. Witsius, bk. i, ch. 2, 14, &c, ch. 8, 31, etc. Hill, bk. 4, ch. 1, 1, 2. Dick, Lecture 44, 45. Watson, ch. 18, 3. Thornwell Lecture 12, p. 284, etc.

5. What was the condition, and what the seal of that Covenant? Turrettin, Loc. vi2, Qu. 4, 5, 7. Witsius, bk. i, ch. 3. Dick and Hill as above.

Man's Origin From One Pair.

The first three chapters of Genesis present a desideratum wholly unsupplied by any human writing, in a simple, natural, and yet authentic account of man's origin. The statement that his body was created out of pre-existent matter, and his soul communicated to that body by God, solves a thousand inquiries, which mythology and philosophy are alike incompetent to meet. And from this first father, together with the helpmeet formed for him, of the opposite se10, from his side, have proceeded the whole human race, by successive generation. The unity of race in the human family has been much mooted by half-scholars in natural science of our day, and triumphantly defended. I must remit you wholly for the discussion to the books written by Christian scholars on that subject, of which I may mention, as accessible and popular, Cabell, the University Lectures, and the work of Dr. Bachman, of Charleston. I would merely point out, in passing, the theological importance of this natural fact. If there are men on earth not descended from Adam's race, then their federal connection with him is broken. But more, their inheritance in the protevangelium, that the "seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head," is also interrupted. The warrant of the Church to carry the Gospel to that people is lacking; and indeed all the relations of man to man are interrupted as to them. Lastly, the integrity of the Bible as the Word of God is fatally affected; for the unity of the race is implied in all its system, in the whole account of God's dealings with it, in all its histories, and asserted in express terms. Acts 17:26. See Breckinridge's Theol., vol. ch. 3, 1. For additional Scriptures, Gen. 3:20; 7:23; 9:1, 19; 10:32. Unity of race is necessary to relation to the Redeemer.

Man, Body and Spirit.

But a yet more precious part of this passage of Scripture is the explanation it gives of the state of universal sin, self-condemnation, and vanity, in which we now find man; which is so hard to reconcile with God's attributes. The simple, but far reaching solution is, that man is not in the state in which he was made by his Creator. The record tells us that God "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Here, in the simple language of a primeval people, the two-fold nature of man, as matter and spirit, is asserted. As the popular terms of every people have selected breath, j'Wr, pneuma, spiritus, to signify this inscrutable substance, thinking spirit, the narrative describes the communication of the soul to the body by the act of breathing. And, it may be added, the view to which reason led us, as to the spirituality of man's thinking part, is confirmed by all Scripture. Here, Gen. 2:7. The body is first formed from one source, and then the spirit is communicated to it from a different one. God is thus the Father of our spirits. Heb. 12:9. At death, the two substances separate, and meet different fates. Eccl. 12:7; 2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:22, 23. The body and soul are in many ways distinguished as different substances, and capable of existing separately. Matt. 10:28; Luke 8:55. The terms body, soul and spirit, are twice used as exhaustive enumerations of the whole man. 2 Thess. 3:5; Heb. 4:12.

Image of God What?

Next: we learn that man, unlike all lower creatures, was formed in the "image of God"—"after His likeness." The general idea here is obviously, that there is a resemblance of man to God. It is not in sameness of essence, for God's is incommunicable; nor likeness of corporeal shape, for of this God has none; being immense. This image has been lost, in the fall, and regained in redemption. Hence, it could not have consisted in anything absolutely essential to man's essence, because the loss of such an attribute would have destroyed man's nature. The likeness which was lost and restored must consist, then, in some accidents. The old Pelagians and Socinians represented the image as grounded in man's rationality, and consisting especially in His dominion over the animals and the world. The Reformed divines represent it as grounded upon man's rationality and immortality, which make him an humble representation of God's spiritual essence; but as consisting especially in the righteousness and true holiness, in which Adam was created. The dominion bestowed upon man is the appropriate result of his moral likeness to his Maker. Thus Witsius—The image consisted antecedenter, in man's spiritual and immortal nature formaliter, in His holiness; consequenter, in His dominion. The first was the precious tablet; the second was the image drawn on it; the third was the ray shining from it. But we substantiate the definition of God's image; as to its first particular, by Gen. 9:6, where we learn that the crime of murder owes its enormity chiefly to this, that it destroys God's image. See also, James 3:9. But since the fall, man has lost his original righteousness, and his likeness to God consists only in his possession of an intelligent spiritual nature. Dominion over the earth and its animals was plainly conferred, Gen. 1:26, 27; Ps. 8, and it is implied that this feature made man, in an humble sense, a representative of God on the earth, in Gen. 1:26, 27, from the connection in which the two things are mentioned, and in 2 Cor. 9:7, from the idea there implied, that the authority given him by God over the other sex makes him God's representative. But the likeness consists chiefly in man's original moral perfection, the intelligence and rectitude of his conscience. This is argued from the fact that the first man, like all the other works of creation, was "very good." Gen. 1:3. This "goodness" must, in fairness, be understood thus, that each created thing had in perfection those properties which adapted it to its designed relations. Man is an intelligent being, and was created to know, enjoy end glorify God as such; hence his moral state must have been perfect. See also, Eccl. 7:29. And that this was the most important feature of God's likeness, is evident; because it is that likeness which man regains by the new creation. See Rom. 12:2; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24. This also, is the likeness which saints aspire after, which they hope to attain when they regain Adam's original perfection. Ps. 17:15; 1 John 3:2.

Hence, Our Theology Anthropomorphic.

The all-important fact that men and women are made in God's image is the justification of all natural theology. Because it is necessarily anthropomorphic, it is made a ground of contention and criticism by many. In the lecture on the immortality of the soul, this anthropomorphic trait is admitted, and the insufficiency which it causes in any theology merely natural, as a means of sanctification and redemption, is disclosed. But our opponents would use this concession to destroy both natural theology and revealed. Our rational self-consciousness is the medium by which we conceive God and His attributes. We know power and causation first in our own conscious volitions: and thus we step to a First Cause. We know spirit, as contrasted with matter, first, as the subject of the functions of consciousness: and thus we know that God, the cause of all intelligence, and the omniscient, must also be spirit. We conceive His knowledge and wisdom, as revealed in His works, after the mode of our thinking to our final causes, but without the limitations of our thoughts. Our conscience is the revelation to us of God's rectitude. It was only by the method of our control over natural powers, that we could construe God's providence. And thus came all our natural knowledge of God.

But Not Therefore Untrue.

It is from this feature that worthlessness has been charged upon it all. But this is simply preposterous. Let it be considered whether it is not the inevitable condition of knowledge to man that it shall be anthropomorphic? What is this, but to say, that man's knowledge must be human, in order to be his? For if he is to have any cognition, it must be according to the forms of his intelligence. This unreasonable cavil is evidently grounded in this illusion; that a symmorphism of the divine science to our forms of thought must be a transformation: that the propositions of this science must be so changed, in order to translate them into our modes of cognition, as to be invalid. Now, if we knew that the human intelligence was wholly heterogeneous from the divine, there would be some ground for this suspicion. But suppose it should turn out that the human intelligence is, in its lower sphere, homogeneous with the divine, then the symmorphism of knowledge implies no corruption of its truth. Does the opponent exclaim, that we must not "beg the question," by assuming that homogeneity? We reply; Neither shall he beg the question in denying it. But when the inspired witness, the Bible, comes to us, with attestation, (by miracles, prophecies, etc.) exactly suited to the forms of the human understanding, and assures us that our spirits are made in the likeness of God's, all fear of our theology, as made invalid by anthropomorphism, is removed. And especially when we are shown the Messiah, as the image of the invisible God, and hear Him reason, we have a complete verification. It would appear that this simple, primeval narrative was so framed, as to give the answer to a subtle modern cavil, and to satisfy this fundamental difficulty.

Adam's Natural Righteousness Defined.

If we attempt to define the original righteousness of man's nature, we must say that, first, it implies the possession of those capacities of understanding and conscience, and that knowledge, which were necessary for the correct comprehension of all his own moral relations. This equally excludes the extravagant notion, that he was endued by nature with all the knowledge ever acquired by all his descendants; and its opposite, that his soul commenced its existence in an infantile state. Second: Man's righteousness consisted in the perfectly harmonious concurrence of all the dispositions of his soul, and, consequently, of all his volitions prompted thereby, with the decisions of his conscience, which in its turn was correctly directed by God's holy will. His righteousness, was then, a natural and entire conformity, in principle and volition, with God's law. Adam was doubtless possessed of free will, (Confession, ch. 4, 2; 9, 2) in the sense which, we saw, was alone appropriate to any rational free agent; that in all his responsible, moral acts his soul was self-determined in its volitions—i. e., he chose according to his own understanding and dispositions, free from co-action. But his will was no more self-determining, or in equilibrio, than man's will now. (We saw that such a state would be neither free, rational, nor moral). Just as man's dispositions now decisively incline his will, in a state of nature, to ungodliness, so they then inclined it to holiness. This inclination was prevalent and complete for the time, yet not immutable, as the event proved. But this mutability of will did not imply any infirmity of moral nature peculiar to man, as compared with angels. The fate of the non-elect angels shows that it is the inevitable result of man's being finite. Impeccability is the property of none but the Infinite, and those to whom He communicates it by His indwelling wisdom and grace. How a creature soul could be prevalently and completely holy in its dispositions, and yet mutable, is a most abstruse problem, to which we will return in due place.

Adam's Righteousness Concreated.

Was Adam's righteousness, in his estate of blessedness, native or acquired? The Calvinist answers, it was native; it was conferred upon him as the original habitus of his will, by the creative act which made him an intelligent creature. And the exercise of holy volitions was the natural effect of the principles which God gave him. This is the obvious and simple meaning of our doctrine; not that righteousness was so an essential attribute of man's nature, that the loss of it would make him no longer a human being proper.

Views of Pelagians and Socinians.

The Pelagians of the 5th century, followed by modern Socinians, and many of the New England school, assert that Adam could only have received from his Maker a negative innocency; and that a positive righteousness could only be the result of his own voluntary acts of choice. Their fundamental dogma is, that nothing has moral quality except that which is voluntary (meaning by this, the result of an act of choosing). Hence, they infer, nothing is sin, or holiness, but acts of volition. Hence, a con-created rectitude of will would be no righteousness, and have no merit, because not the result of the person's own act of choice. Hence, also, say a priori dispositions have no moral quality, except where they are acquired habitudes of disposition resulting from voluntary acts. Of this kind was Adam's holy character, they say. And so, in the work of conversion, it is irrational to talk of being made righteous, or of receiving a holy heart; man must act righteousness, and make by choosing a holy heart.

Intermediate Roman Catholic Ground.

This is the most important point in the whole subject of man's original state and relation to God's law. Before proceeding, however, to its discussion, it may be well to state the evasive ground assumed by the Roman Catholic Church between the two. In order to gain a semi-Pelagian position, without avowing the above odious principles, they teach that the first man was holy, ab initio; but that original righteousness was not a natural habitus of his own will, but a supernatural grace, communicated to him temporarily by God. According to Rome, concupiscence is not sin, and it existed in holy Adam; but it has a perpetual tendency to override the limits of conscience, and thus become sin. So long as the supernatural grace of original righteousness was communicated to Adam, he stood; the moment God saw fit to withdraw it, natural concupiscence became inordinate, sin was born, and man fell. The refutation of this view of man's original rectitude will be found below, in the proof that concupiscence is sin, and that man was made by nature holy. We understand that it is implied, if man had not sinned, he would have transmitted that holy nature to his posterity; surely supernatural grace does not "run in the blood?" The idea is also derogatory to God's wisdom and holiness, that He should make a creature and endue it with such a nature as was of itself inadequate to fulfill the end of its existence as a moral being, and so construct its propensities, that sin would be the normal, certain and immediate result of their unrestricted action! It represents God as creating imperfections.

Proof of Our View. Pelagian Argument Ambiguous.

(a) We assert against the Pelagians that man was positively holy by nature, as he came from God's hand because the plea that nothing can have moral quality which is involuntary, is ambiguous and sophistical. That which occurs or exists against a man's positive volition can be to him neither praise nor blame. This is the proposition to which common sense testifies. It is a very different proposition to say that there cannot be moral desert, because no positive volition was exercised about it. (The Pelagian's proposition.) For then there could be no sins of omission, where the ill-desert depended on the very fact that the man wholly failed to choose, when he should have chosen. The truth is, man's original dispositions are spontaneous; they subsist and operate in him freely; without co-action; and only because of their own motion. This is enough to show them responsible, and blame- or praiseworthy. A man always feels good or ill desert according as his spontaneous feelings are in a right or wrong state, not according to the mode or process by which they came into that state. Men strangely forget that their free-agency may as spontaneously prefer and thus make them responsible for, a state which was original, as though this preference of theirs had originated it. Here is a man who was born with carroty hair: he is absurdly proud of its supposed beauty, and prefers it to any other. Every one decides that he thereby exhibits precisely the same bad taste, as though, having been gifted by nature with the finest brown hair, he had produced the unsightly color with a hair-dye. So, he who, naturally having a perverse disposition, delights in, prefers, and fosters it, is as truly spontaneous and responsible therein, as though he had himself acquired it in the impossible way the Pelagians imagine.

Dr. Thornwell (Lecture xix) seems to teach, that the inability of the will, if truly natural, in the sense of being a part of man's original nature, would destroy his responsibility. He defends the proposition that the sinner is now responsible notwithstanding his thorough inability of will, on the exclusive ground that it is self-procured by man. This statement must be regarded as incautious. It is very true, that a holy God is incapable of creating any rational creature with a wrong disposition. But to fallen man his evil habitus or inability of will, is now natural: it is connate, and is the regular incident of man's nature. In what sense can it be said of an individual man now, that his inability of will is self-procured? Only as he fell in Adam. And it is hard to see how Dr. T. can save his own true position that the sinner is responsible, notwithstanding his total inability of will, without implying a personal unity of each sinner and Adam. His statement is unhappy, again: because it jeopardizes the clearness of the all-important distinction (see Confession, Chap. 9.) between the destruction of man's essentia by the loss of any constitutive faculty (which would end his responsibility) and that total "aversion" from the right, which results in an entire inability, and yet leaves to the sinning agent his inalienable spontaneity.

Scripture Teaches Our View.

(b.) We have already seen, from Gen. 1:26, 27; 1:31; Eccl. 7:29, that man was made in the image of God, and that this image was most essentially his original righteousness. God's word, therefore, sustains our view. The same thing is seen in the language of Scripture concerning the new creation, regeneration. This, the Bible expressly affirms, is a "creation unto, righteousness." Eph. 4:24; 2:10; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4. It is a supernatural change of disposition, wrought not merely through motive, but by almighty power. Eph. 1:19, 20; 2:1-5. It determines not only the acts, but the will. Ps. 110:3; Phil. 2:13. And God has Himself suggested the analogy on which our argument proceeds, by choosing the term "new creation," to describe it. Hence, as the new-born soul is made holy, and does not merely act a holiness, the first man was made righteous.

Let me remark here, that ancient and modern Pelagians virtually admit the justice of this, by denying the possibility of such a regeneration by grace; and on the same grounds; that a state of holiness not primarily chosen by the will, could not be meritorious. On their theory the human soul of Christ would not have had a positive righteousness by nature. But see Luke 1:35.

No Natural Neutrality Possible.

(c.) Their theory is contradicted by common sense in this: that a moral neutrality, in a being who had the rational faculties and the data for comprehending the moral relations in a given case, is impossible; and if possible, would be criminal. It is the very nature of conscience, that when the moral relations of a given case are comprehended, her dictum is immediate, inevitable and categorical. The dispositions also must either be disposed actively, one way or the other, or they are not dispositions at all. They cannot be in equilibrio any more than motion can be quiescent. And does not every sane conscience decide that if Adam, on comprehending his moral relations to his infinitely good, kind, glorious and holy Father, had simply failed to choose His love and service instantly; if he had been capable of hesitation for one moment, that would itself have constituted a moral defect, a sin?

No Principle of Right Choice Would Have Been Present.

(d.) Had Adam's will been in the state of equilibrium described, and his moral character initially negative, then there would have been in him been present. nothing to prompt a holy choice; and the choice which he might have made for that which is formally right would have had nothing in it morally good. For the intention determining the volition gives all its moral quality. Thus he could never have chosen or acted a righteousness, nor initiated a moral habitude, his initial motive being non-moral.

Corruption of Infants Refutes Pelagianism.

(e.) These false principles must lead, as Pelagians freely avow, to the denial of original depravity in infants. That which does not result from an act of intelligent choice, say they, cannot have moral quality; so, there can be no sin of nature, any more than a natural righteousness. But that man has a sin of nature, is proved by common experience, asserted by Scripture, and demonstrated by the fact that all are "by nature the children of wrath," and even from infancy suffer and die under God's hand.

(f.) If the doctrine be held that a being cannot be created righteous without choice, then those that die in infancy cannot be redeemed. For they cannot exercise as yet intelligent acts of moral choice, and thus convert themselves by choosing God's service. The Pelagian does indeed virtually represent the infant as needing no redemption, having no sin of nature. But the Bible and experience prove that he does need redemption: whence, on Pelagian principles, the damnation of all who die in infancy is inevitable.

Their Theory Has No Facts.

Last, the theory of the Pelagian is utterly unphilosophical in this, that it has no experimental basis. It is a mere hypothesis. No human being has ever existed consciously in the state of moral indifference which they assume; or been conscious of that initial act of choice, which generated his moral character. Surely all scientific propositions ought to have some basis of experimental proof! Ethics should be an inductive science.

Natural Relation of Creature To God's Will.

Any intelligent moral creature of God is naturally bound to love Him with all his heart, and serve Him with all his strength. i. e., this obligation is not created by positive precept only, but arises out of the very perfections of God, and the relations of the creature, as His property, and deriving all his being and capacities from God's hands. Doubtless Adam's holy soul recognized joyfully this obligation. And doubtless his understanding was endowed with the sufficient knowledge of so much of God's will as related to his duties at that time. It may be very hard for us to say how much this was. Now, it is common for divines to say, that a creature cannot merit anything of God. This has struck many minds as doubtful and unfair, whence it is important that we should properly distinguish. In denying that a creature of God can merit anything, it is by no means meant that the holy obedience of a creature is before God devoid of good moral character. It possesses praiseworthiness, if holy, and undoubtedly receives that credit at God's hands. The fact that it is naturally due to God does not at all deprive it of its good quality. But the question remains: What is that quality? Obviously, it is that the natural connection between holiness and happiness shall not be severed, as long as the holiness continues; that, as the obedience rendered is that evoked by the natural relation to the Creator's will; so the desert acquired is of that natural well-being appropriate to the creature's capacities. The guarantee to the creature for this, in the absence of any positive covenant from God, is simply the divine goodness and righteousness, which render God incapable of treating a holy being worse than this. The creature is God's property.

The Creature Cannot Merit.

It is equally obvious that such obedience on the creature's part cannot bring God in his debt, to condescend to him in any way, to communicate Himself as a source of supernatural blessedness, or stability in holiness, or to secure his natural well-being longer than his voluntary and mutable obedience is continued. And the reasons are, simply that none of the creature's obedience can be supererogatory he owing his utmost at any rate; and that all his being and capacities were given by God, and are His property. I cannot bring my benefactor in my debt by giving him something which he himself lent to me; I am but restoring his own. This is what is intended by the Confession of Faith, ch. 7, 1. The Scriptures clearly support it. Ps. 16:2; Job 35:7, 8; Acts. 17:24, 25; Luke 17:7-10.

But, Death would not have Entered without Sin.

Also, it is equally clear that mortality and the connected ills of life could not have been the natural lot of man, irrespective of his sin and fall, as the Pelagians and Socinians pretend. Their motive in assuming this repulsive tenet is to get rid of the argument for original sin, presented by the sufferings and death of infants who have committed no overt sin. They say that dissolution, to an organized animal body, is as natural and unavoidable as the fall of the leaves from the trees. They claim, that only the monadic and indiscerptible can be exempt from that fate; and that it is the natural counterpart of generation, and of animal nutrition. I reply, that, if they only used these arguments to prove that animal bodies are not self-existent, they would have reason. But we must remember that the human person, whose dissolution is now in question, is a responsible agent, not a vegetable, whose destiny in this particular a righteous God has to decide judicially. From this point of view, it is too plain to need argument, that the providence of that same almighty power which framed Adam's body at first, was abundantly able to continue its organic existence indefinitely. It is not necessary to speculate as to the mode; but we have only to suppose God suspending the molecular forces which now war against the vital force; and the holy man's body might have all the permanency of a diamond, or lump of gold. But the main point is: that to a moral person, dissolution is not a mere chemical result, but a penal misery. Does this befall a responsible agent absolutely guiltless? The assertion is abhorrent to the justice and goodness of God. Physical evil is the appointed consequence of moral evil, and the sanction threatened for the breach of God's will. To suppose it appointed to an obedient moral being, irrespective of any guilt, overthrows either God's moral attributes or His providence, and confounds heaven with earth. Second: It is inconsistent with that image of God and that natural perfection, in which man was created. The workmanship was declared to be very good: and this doubtless excluded the seeds of its own destruction. It was in the image of God; and this included immortality. But last, the Scriptures imply that man would neither have suffered nor died if he had not sinned, by appointing death as the threat against transgression. And this, while it meant more than bodily death, certainly included this, as is evident from Gen. 3:17-19. See, then, Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12; 6:23; Matt. 19:17; Gal. 3:12. These last evidently have reference to the covenant of works made with Adam: and they explicitly say, that if a perfect obedience were possible, (as it was with Adam before he fell), it would secure eternal life.

Covenant of Works Gracious.

God's act in entering into a covenant with Adam, if it be substantiated, will be found to be one of pure grace and condescension. He might justly have held him always under his natural relationship; and Adam's obedience, however long continued, would not have brought God into his debt for the future. Thus, his holiness being mutable, his blessedness would always have hung in suspense. God, therefore, moved by pure grace, condescended to establish a covenant with His holy creature, in virtue of which a temporary obedience might be graciously accepted as a ground for God's communicating Himself to him, and assuring him ever after of holiness, happiness, and communion with God. Here then is the point of osculation between the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace, the law and the Gospel. Both offer a plan of free justification, by which a righteousness should be accepted, in covenant, to acquire for the creature more than he could strictly claim of God; and thus gain him everlasting life. In the covenant of grace, all is "ordained in the hand of a mediator," because man's sin had else excluded him from access to God's holiness. In the covenant of works, no mediator was required, because man was innocent, and God's purity did not forbid him to condescend to him. But in both, there was free grace; in both a justification unto life; in both, a gracious bestowal of more than man had earned.

Under the natural relation of man to law, there was room neither for mercy in case of transgression, nor for assured blessedness. This relation was modified by the Covenant of works, in three respects. First, a temporal probation was accepted, in place of an everlasting exposure to a fall under the perpetual legal demand. Second: The principle of representation was introduced by which the risks of the probation were limited to one man, acting for all instead of being indefinitely repeated, forever, in the conduct of each individual. Third, a reward for the probationary obedience was promised, which, while a reward for right works, was far more liberal than the works entitled to; and this was an adoption of life, transferring man from the position of a servant to that of a son, and surrounding him forever with the safeguards of the divine wisdom and faithfulness, making his holiness indefectible. Thus, the motive of God in this covenant was the same infinite and gratuitous goodness, which prompted him to the covenant of grace.

Covenant of Works, What? Proof of Its Institution.

The evidences that God placed Adam under a Covenant of Works are well stated by the standard authors. A covenant, in its more technical sense, according to Turrettin, implies: 1. Two equal parties. 2. Liberty to do or not do the covenanted things before the covenant is formed. In this sense there could be no covenant between God and man. But in the more general sense of a conditional promise, such a transaction was evidently effected between God and Adam, and is recorded in Gen. 2:16, 17. There are—1st the two parties. God proposing a certain blessing and penalty on certain conditions, and man coming under those conditions. It has been objected that it was no covenant, because man's accession to it was not optional with him: God's terms were not a proposal made him, but a command laid upon him. I reply, if he did not have an option to accede or not, he was yet voluntary in doing so; for no doubt his holy will joyfully concurred in the gracious plan. And such compacts between governors and governed are by no means unusual or unnatural. Witness all rewards promised by masters and teachers, for the performance of tasks, on certain conditions. 2. There was a condition: the keeping of God's command. 3. There was a conditional promise and threat: life for obedience, and death for disobedience. That the promise of life was clearly implied is shown by the fact itself, that life is the correlative of death, which was threatened in the covenant. For the soul not to live, is to die; not to die, is to live. We argue next, from the natural law of conscience, which expects life for obedience, as death for transgression. Did this fatherly dispensation to Adam suspend the favorable part of this universal law, and thus place him in a worse, instead of a more hopeful condition? Heb. 11:6, tells us "he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.," Here we have a general principle of service: surely Adam's introduction into Paradise did not revoke it. Third: During his rectitude, Adam evidently enjoyed the use of the "Tree of Life," which was a sacramental pledge to him of the promised result. And when the covenant was broken, his partaking of this seal was forbid den, as utterly inconsistent with the new state of things. Unless Adam had had before him the promise of life for obedience, this would have been idle. Fourth: That the correlative promise of life was given, appears from the relation of Adam and Christ, the second Adam. Both were representative heads. The covenant which fell through in Adam's inept hands, was successfully accomplished in Christ's. But the result through Him was a "justification of life." And in the frequent contrasts which the Epistles of Paul draw between the justification of works and of faith, it is never hinted that the impossibility of the former now arises from anything in the covenant of works, but only from man's sin and lost estate. See Rom. 8:3, 4. And last: the Scriptures in expounding the nature of the Covenant of Works, expressly say that life would have been the result of perfect obedience. Let the student consult Lev. 18:5; Deut. 30:15; Ezek. 20:11; Matt. 19:17; Rom. 2:6, 7; 7:10; 10:5; Gal. 3:12. The fact that in some of these places the offer of life through the covenant of works was only made in order to apply an argument ad hominem to the self-righteous Jews, does not weaken this evidence. For the reason that life cannot, in fact be gained through that covenant is not that it was not truly promised to man in it, and in good faith; but that man has now become through the fall, morally incapable of fulfilling the conditions. Nor is the argument in favor of our position weakened surely by the other fact; that the Apostle's reference to this covenant of works promising life for obedience, was designed to shut up sinners who have broken it, under condemnation.

Adam A Representative.

In this transaction Adam represented his posterity as well as himself. This appears from 1. The parallel which is drawn between Christ and Adam. Rom. 5;12-19; 1 Cor. 15:22, 47. In almost every thing they are contrasted, yet Christ is the second Adam. The only parallelism is in the fact that they were both representative persons. 2. The fact proves it, that the penalty denounced on Adam has actually taken effect on every one of his posterity. See Gen. 5:3. 3. The Bible declares that sin, death, and all penal evil came into the world through Adam. Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22. 4. Although the various other communications of the first three chapters of Genesis are apparently addressed to Adam singly, we know that they applied equally to his posterity, as the permission to eat of all the fruits of the earth; the command to multiply and replenish the earth; the threatened pains of child-bearing; the curse of the ground, and the doom of labor, etc.

Condition and Seal of the Covenant.

Every one is familiar with the Bible account of the condition of this covenant: the eating or not eating of the fruit of a tree called the "tree of knowledge of good and evil." This prohibition was, obviously, a "positive command." Our divines are accustomed to argue, very reasonably, that when God's design was to apply a naked test of the principle, obedience, a positive command is better adapted to the end than a perpetual moral one. For the latter class have usually rational grounds in the interests and affections of men; but the ground of the positive precept is only the rightful authority of God. A more difficult point is: Whether this single, positive precept substituted, during Adam's probation, all the moral law. In other words: Was this the only command Adam now had to observe: the only one by the breach of which he could fall? Presbyterians answer this in the negative. We regard all the moral law known to Adam is represented in this command, as the crucial test of his obedience to all. The condition of his covenant was perfect compliance, in heart and act, with all God's revealed law. This is manifest from the unreasonableness of any moral creature's exemption from the law of God, which is immutable. It appears also, from all the representations of the covenant of works, quoted in a previous paragraph; where the obedience required is to the whole law. It appears, finally, from this obvious view: that a consistent sense of moral obligation was the only thing which could have given to Adam's compliance with the positive prohibition, any moral significance or worth.

The seal of the covenant is usually understood to be the tree of life, whose excellent fruit did not, indeed, medically work immortality in Adam's frame, but was appointed as a symbol and pledge, or seal of it. Hence, when he had forfeited the promise, he was debarred from the sign. The words of Gen. 3:22 are to be understood sacramentally.

The Probation Temporary.

Why is it supposed that an obedience for a limited time would have concluded the Covenant transaction? The answer is, that such a covenant, with an indefinite probation, would have been no covenant of life at all. The creature's estate would have been still forever mutable, and in no respect different from that in which creation itself placed him, under the first natural obligation to his Maker. Nay, in that case man's estate would be rightly called desperate; because, he being mutable and finite, and still held forever under the curse of a law, which he was, any day, liable to break, the probability that he would some day break it would in the infinite future mount up to a moral certainty. The Redeemer clearly implies that the probation was to be temporary, in saying to the young Ruler: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." If the probation had no limits, his keeping them could never make him enter in. Here again, Adam's representative character unavoidably implies that the probation was temporary. His personal action under the trial was to decide whether his posterity were to be born heirs of wrath, or adopted sons of God. Had his probation been endless, their state would have been wholly unsettled. Only a moments reflection is needed, to show the preposterous confusion which would arise from that state of facts. Adam's trial still continuing thousands of years after Seth's birth, for instance, and after his glorification, if the father then fell, the sort's glorification must have been revoked.

Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.