Thursday, April 8, 2021

The First Covenant

Q. 12: What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?
Answer: When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death. (WSC)
This question explains the first covenant that God made with man. Note several things about this covenant:

1. This covenant was an act of providence rather than creation. Man owed obedience unto God as his Creator, but God did not owe man this covenant relationship. As our confession of faith says, due to the distance between God and his creatures, “they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.” It was of God’s generosity that he placed Adam and Eve in a fruitful garden, gave them fellowship with him, and promised eternal life on condition of the perfect obedience that they already owed to him.

2. While Genesis 2-3 does not explicitly describe this arrangement as a “covenant,” all the elements of a covenant are there: two parties (God and mankind under Adam’s headship), a condition (perfect obedience), a promise of blessing (life in its fullest sense), and the threat of curse (death in its fullest sense). Some have even described the tree of life as the “sacrament” of this covenant of works, a sign and seal of the promise of life. In addition, Hosea 6:7 seems to call this arrangement a covenant, and the parallel between Adam and Christ in Romans 5 also indicates the covenantal nature of this arrangement.

3. While Adam and Eve were covenantally obligated to obey God by keeping the moral law and fulfilling the creation mandate (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:15), their loyalty and obedience was particularly tested by the prohibition of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17).

4. While we are no longer able to obtain life by this covenant due to our sin, yet it forms the background of the rest of the Bible. In the end, through Christ and by grace, we end up with what was promised in the covenant of works. Not only does Revelation 21-22 contain many references to Genesis 2, but echoes of Eden are found throughout the Bible. Even outside the Bible, in the hearts of men and women, there is a natural longing for Eden, for a time and place where man dwelt in peace with God, with each other, and with creation. But the way to that condition is now blocked by sin. It would take another special act of providence, and a costly one, to open again the way to paradise.

No comments: