While we differ from Barth, we shall have to face up to a further question: Does the interrelation of the law and the Gospel have only a "salvation-historical" aspect, or does it have reference to the “lapsarian” situation o[ man’s own guilt and lostness? Can we speak of a prolapsarian state in which there was a "law"? Was there a "nomological" existence of man apart from and even prior to the distinction of the law and the Gospel. If there was, can we search there, perhaps, for the fundamental structure of what it means to be a "man"? R. Schippers, in weighing all of these questions, has affirmed that there was a law in man’s "prolapsarian state," and that that law was there apart from the Gospel!51 At the same time, we no longer may speak of this law in abstraction. Schippers’ statement has reference to the creation of God which must certainly be distinguished from man’s guilt and fallenness and therefore from the Gospel of God’s grace which saves.
It stands to reason that we may not draw conclusions concerning the relation of the law and the Gospel or build a case for the "priority" of the law on such a basis as this. Man’s original life under God’s rule cannot be regarded, for even a moment, apart from God’s love and communion. Within that communion man was subjected to God’s holy and good command; furthermore. because of that communion the commandment was never an impersonal or a statutory rule. God’s commandment expresses his lordship over life. Therefore, any discussion of the usus legus, in its various dimensions, is only conceivable in terms of this absolute goodness of God’s commandment for creaturely man. The fact that this accent was sounded so frequently in Reformation and post-Reformation times is no evidence of the darkening of the Gospel, and is no recognition of a "legal order" above or before the "order of grace." What we see in this accent is only the enigmatic nature of guilt in the face of God’s loving communion or the goodness of his rule.
Because of that fact we can never construe an antithesis between the covenants of "works" and "grace." We err if we interpret this distinction as though God’s original covenant had to do with our work or our achievement or our fulfillment of his law, while the later covenant of grace has reference to the pure gift of his mercy apart from all our works. If we assume this we are compelled to say that God’s original relation to man was strictly "legal," or that the structure of that relation was determined by man’s merit. In that case, we lose sight of the fact that man’s obedience to God’s command can never be different from a thankful response to God’s own fellowship. Therefore S. G. DeGraaf has rightly said that the concept which sees God’s favor only at the end of man’s way of obedience is open to serious dispute. Man participates in God’s favor, communion and love already at the very beginning. In that fact we see the awful reality of his guilt and apostasy.