2. The threatening with which the prohibition was sanctioned is contained in these words, “In the clay that thou eat thereof thou shalt surely die.” Now the question presents itself, what are we to understand by the death here mentioned? Death, is of three kinds, corporeal, spiritual, and eternal, in opposition to three kinds of life respectively so called.

(.) Corporeal or animal life consists of the union of soul and body, a union by which man is fitted for discharging the functions for which he is designed in this world. In opposition to this, corporeal death denotes the cessation of these functions and the dissolution of the bodily frame, by which man is rendered unfit for any longer discharging the functions of life. In this sense the term death is used everywhere among all men and also in Scripture.

(..) Spiritual life is a power of acting (actuositas) proceeding from the fixed principle of love to God and man, from a regard to the divine glory, and in conformity to the divine law, in all truth, virtue, and godliness. In opposition to this, spiritual death denotes a continual course of sinning, a habitual violation of the law which enjoins love to God and to man–proceeding from the fixed principle of self-love and of carnal desire. The expression spiritual life in this sense often occurs in Scripture, but not so death, although such may he its meaning when man is represented as being dead in sins. In the Old Testament, however, we do not find it bearing this signification.

(∴) Eternal life is the very intimate communion which we enjoy with God–the perfection of all our faculties and parts in glory together with consummate happiness and a pure conscience. In opposition to this is eternal death, which means a state of shame and dishonor–a state in which we are disquieted by an evil conscience and are separated from God, and thus from the chief good and from all happiness, and in which moreover we are visited with every physical and moral evil. This state is called in Scripture the second death.

Now in which of these senses is the death mentioned in the threatening to be understood? What is the import of the expression “thou shalt surely die?” There is no doubt, we think, that temporal death is here meant. This is denied by Pelagians and Socinians, who maintain that, death is the consequence of nature, and not the punishment of sin, and that God therefore threatened not that Adam would die in this sense, because he would do so in the course of nature, but only that he would become subject to sin and to eternal death.

But (a) The phrase “thou shalt surely die” uniformly in Scripture signifies temporal death, and is never employed in any other sense. (b.) When God pronounced sentence upon fallen man, he expressed it by returning to the dust,–“dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return,” Gen. iii. 19. And certainly he did not denounce after the fall a different death from what he threatened before it. (c.) Temporal death is presented to us as a grievous calamity, because it is the dissolution of the parts of which man is composed. This dissolution is so opposed to our natural desires, that they all recoil from it as something that was unknown in a state of innocence and that must be the consequence only of sin and of the fall, because it cannot but be attended with a troublesome feeling, with anxiety, with much pain and torment. All these miseries and physical evils, therefore, must be traced to sin as their origin, (d.) In harmony with this Scripture calls death “the wages of sin,” Rom. vi. 23. “As in Adam all die so in Christ shall all be made alive,” 1 Cor. xv. 22. Death, therefore, is here to be understood as temporal.

Some however object that man did not immediately die, although God said, “in the day that thou eat thereof thou shalt surely die,” and therefore that temporal death is not meant. But in reply to this we say, that although God might defer the execution of the threatening, the threatening was virtually fulfilled if man from the moment of his fall became liable to death. So that when God says, “thou shalt surely die,” the meaning will be if thou wilt be mortal from the moment of thy fall–thou wilt have in thee the cause of death–death shall certainly overtake thee–thou shalt actually die.” Just as Solomon said to Shimei, “It shall be, that, on the day thou go out and pass over the brook Kidron, thou shalt know for certain that thou shalt surely die,” I Kings ii. 37; and yet he did not immediately die but was condemned to death: so in this case “hou shalt die” is the same as ” thou art sentenced to death–death will at one time or other overtake thee.”

How then, it may be asked, can we reconcile our doctrine that temporal death is the penalty of sin, with our belief that by the obedience of Christ we are delivered from all the penal effects of sin?

We reply

(.) That death in the case of believers is not the punishment of sin strictly so called. It has indeed something penal in it, as chastisements have; but not properly what is called punishment, because the reason of punishment is removed. It is only the pathway to eternal life.

(..) We are delivered from temporal death, inasmuch as in respect of believers it is no longer connected with eternal death and will be abolished by the resurrection. Neither does it remove and shut us out from the favour of God. He who believes in Christ cannot die, because he does not undergo death as the punishment of sin and as connected with eternal death. Therefore by the death in the threatening we are to understand temporal death.

But does the threatening, it may again be asked, include spiritual and eternal death?

If by spiritual death we understand habitual, deep-rooted, invincible moral depravity, then our only answer is, that it is to be regarded not only as a consequence of the transgression of the prohibition by the permission of God, but also as a delivering over to judgment, inasmuch as man by that one sin fell into that complete moral depravity which we call spiritual death. But if the question be whether spiritual death is comprehended in the threatening and is to be considered in the light of the punishment of sin properly so called, then we reply in the negative.

(..) Because the phrase “thou shalt surely die” has no such meaning in the Old Testament. We nowhere meet with death employed to denote moral depravity, nor does it occur in this sense in any part of Scripture, hut always in the sense of temporal death which does not last for ever.

(..) This moral depravity does not properly hear the aspect of punishment, because it is inconsistent with the character of God as a holy and righteous Being to inflict such depravity in the way of punishment. For that is strictly speaking penal in its nature which a judge may inflict. But God cannot he the author of sin and therefore as a judge he cannot inflict it. He may indeed give man up to depravity, Rom. i. 24, hut he cannot properly inflict it as a punishment or inflict any punishment opposed to his own perfections, which moral depravity is. The death, therefore, referred to in the threatening does not mean this depravity hut the evil consequences which flow from it.

(∴) That which is the cause of punishment cannot he properly called a punishment. Now the violation of a precept is the cause of punishment. But moral depravity and the continual violation of the law whether in habit or in act cannot both be regarded as penal, unless we wish to confound two things, the cause namely and its effect.

(∷) This death, moreover, was placed in opposition to the promised life. But the life promised which man would have attained by keeping the law was not strictly speaking holiness but its reward. The death also is therefore not properly depravity but the evil resulting from depravity and the punishment inflicted on account of it. Are we to understand the threatening as including eternal death, i.e., the misery consequent upon eternal separation from communion with God?

In reply to this question we say that a distinction must be observed between the prohibition to which the threatening is annexed, considered in itself and in its connexion with the natural law of love to God and to our neighbor. For the prohibition may be viewed in two aspects. It may be regarded, in the first place, as based upon the natural law, inasmuch as it continually signified and communicated to man a knowledge of that law; so that the former could not be violated without the violation at the same time of the latter. It may be regarded, in the second place, abstractedly or by itself, inasmuch as it was an external sign for trial, and thus the violation of it was an external sign of the breach of the natural law. If viewed in the former of these aspects the threatening annexed to it comprehends eternal death, not because the mere violation of the prohibition deserved to be so punished, but because the breach of the natural law of love to God and to man had this death annexed to it as its penalty. And consequently the prohibition was also connected with the natural law and could not be violated without also breaking that law. We say accordingly and say truly that in this sense the threatening included also eternal death, because the transgression of the prohibition was inseparably connected with the transgression of the natural law. This was the opinion of the apostle Paul. “By one man,” he says, “sin entered into the world and death by sin,” Rom. v. 12. It is evident from his subsequent reasoning that by death he understands condemnation, for he speaks of eternal life and sets the two in opposition and contrast to each other, Rom. vi. 23. But if the prohibition be considered in the latter of the two aspects in which we have presented it, i.e., as an external sign of the natural law, then the threatening includes only temporal death. And as this is its primary and real view we say

(.) That temporal death alone is threatened. The phrase employed clearly shows this–a phrase which is uniformly used to denote this kind of death.

(..) When God after the fall pronounced upon man the penalty that was to be inflicted, he made mention only of temporal death, “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return,” Gen. iii. 19.

(∴) In its primary and direct sense it denotes something which is not revoked by God, something which is unmitigated, which endures from age to age and is inflicted upon all men since the fall. But eternal death is not inflicted upon all. Temporal death however still continues; for we do not read that God delivered man from the threatening “thou shalt surely die.” The threatening therefore still continues, and in virtue of it temporal death, which we understand to be implied in it, passes upon every individual of our. fallen race.

(::) In short, whatever view we take of the prohibition such is the view we must take of the threatening. Now the prohibition was an external sign of the natural law, and therefore when obeyed was a sign of the observance and when broken was a sign of the violation of that law. As this is the proper light in which it should be regarded, the threatening also must be viewed in a corresponding, light, as denoting some such evil as should be an external sign that the natural law had been broken. Now this is nothing else than temporal death, with its concomitant moral evils, which remains as an external sign even in believers. The meaning of the threatening therefore is this, If you transgress the prohibition, and by this external sign shew that you have cast off the natural law of love to God and to your neighbor, I also ordain death and its accompanying evils to remain as the external, sign of this transgression; so that as by obeying the prohibition you would have attained perfection, without undergoing any change (which we call death), now that you have broken it, that perfection will not be attained except by undergoing that change which temporal death involves. This is the direct and proper view of the threatening, in relation to the prohibition considered abstractly or in itself, i.e., as an external, sign of the natural law, and in conformity to that view temporal death alone must be regarded as included in the threatening.

In this way all difficulties are easily removed, and the opinion regarding eternal death as also included in the threatening remains entire, provided that death be viewed as the consequence of the transgression of the natural law, which was connected with the breach of the prohibition. But if the prohibition be regarded as an external sign, then the threatening includes only temporal death or the death of the body.

From what has been said it is easy to infer what was promised to Adam if he should obey the prohibition. From the law of opposites it is evident that he would not have become liable to death, but would have attained eternal life (although this is not expressly mentioned). By rendering obedience to the natural law, besides, he would have continued in the enjoyment of temporal life as opposed to temporal death, though ere that life could be perfected in heaven he must necessarily at one time or other undergo a change of some kind. This temporal life was promised to him as an external sign of his keeping the prohibition, and now having broken the prohibition he must undergo temporal death as an external sign of his transgression.

Having thus explained the natural and accidental condition of the first man, i.e. the condition in which he was created and the condition in which he was placed, let us now consider what these conditions properly import.

His natural condition or the condition in which he was created may be viewed in reference to

1. God and

2. Man himself.

1. The natural condition of man was that of an upright creature in relation to the Creator and to his purpose in calling him into being, namely, to shew forth his glory. In this condition he also stood to God in the relation of a son to a father. This relationship was shown in his being placed in Paradise as in his father’s house, and in the title which he had to eternal life as the gift and inheritance of his father, as long as he performed the duties which that relationship involved. His natural condition, moreover, was one of dependence. He stood to God in the relation of a servant and subject. The sign of his dependence was the prohibition and also the law written upon his heart–law indicating inferiority on his part and sovereignty on the part of God. In this condition finally he resembled God, and this was shown in his being created in the divine image and in his being invested with dominion over the creatures.

2. In reference to man himself this condition was one in which he rejoiced in peace of conscience, in a title to eternal life, in holding intimate communion with God, in the profusion of comforts that were bestowed upon him, and in the calm repose which no labor nor trouble disturbed. These were the natural results of his upright condition.

But let us consider his accidental state or the state in which he was placed, in which there was a manifestation of his natural state and not a manifestation simply, but a proof and trial of it.

There was, we say, in the accidental state a manifestation or external sign of the natural. God on his part gave man a sign of the relationship in which he stood to him as his Creator, and man also on his part gave a sign of the relationship in which he considered himself as standing to God.

(.) God showed by a public sign that man was an upright creature–that he was his son–that he had a title to eternal life, and that he might make that title good. He declared this by placing him in Paradise–a garden stored with the most exquisite delights; for Paradise was a sign of this happy life which man enjoyed. There was a sign also in the tree of life which was not only the means of preserving him in the present life but also a token and pledge of eternal life. In the same light we may regard the prohibition regarding the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the dominion with which man was invested over the creatures, the one namely as a sign of the sovereignty of God, and the other as a sign that man was created in the divine image.

(∴) But man also on Ms part manifested by signs the relationship in which he considered himself as standing to God, by being carefully on his guard against the. tree of knowledge of good and evil, and thus publicly declaring that he considered God as his chief good, in subordination to whose will he regulated his desires and his actions–by tilling the garden according to the divine injunction he had received–and, as he was fitted and designed to do, by contemplating God in all his works and rendering the glory due to him. Among these signs we may also rank man’s observance of the day on which God is said to have rested from the work of creation–the day which God blessed–the Paradisaical Sabbath. Moses tells us that, when God had made all things in six days, he “blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made,” Gen. ii . 3. These words’ (which formerly gave occasion to no little disputation) refer only to God, and are to be primarily understood as relating only to him, for it is simply said that he “blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.” This expression does not mean that he commanded that day to be sanctified by men but that he himself sanctified it. It is one thing to say that man sanctifies the day, and another, that God does so. For here the Sabbath is not instituted to be observed by man, but such a Sabbath as God himself kept.

What kind of Sabbath, then, it may be asked, was this, and how could God be said to sanctify that day?

We answer that he did so in the best and true sense and use of the word. For nothing is meant but that he acted agreeably to the nature and right view of that day. He had finished all his work, and the seventh day was sanctified because on it he did nothing–he rested from his work. This is to sanctify the Sabbath, and therefore nothing more is meant than his resting and not working. Best accordingly is the sanctification referred to, and God hallowed this day by resting on it. This is further evident from the language employed in the moral law regarding this day, in which the sanctification: of it is explained by resting. For the expressions were taken from the observance of the Sabbath as afterwards enjoined upon the Jews, and Moses employs such as were in common use at the time when he wrote. The Jews in like manner understood the sanctification of the Sabbath to mean resting, and regarded those who did not rest on that day as profaning it. Christ says that the priests in the temple profaned the Sabbath, and how?–by laboring. and working within its sacred precincts. Therefore as to work on the Sabbath is a profanation of the day, so to cease from all work is to sanctify it.

Is there nothing, then, in these words of Moses which man might have turned to his own use?

We say he might have done so not directly but indirectly. For although, as we have said, Moses refers simply to God, he also mentions his resting, for the purpose of giving us to understand that man is bound to imitate the divine example. And what is this? Not, as many suppose, that God in these words instituted the Jewish Sabbath in Paradise and that that Sabbath was kept by Adam. For there is no mark of this Sabbath here, nor did his condition in Paradise admit of it. Such a Sabbath was inconsistent with the situation in which he was there placed.

(.) Because the Jewish Sabbath is a cessation from work and from severe and painful toil–a rest both to man and beast from that labor which is the consequence of sin. But such a rest as this was not required and had no existence in the state of innocence.

(..) The Jewish Sabbath was a sign of sin and of purification from sin, Ezek . xx . 12. For it shewed that man’s work was corrupt, and that God could not be worshiped by him unless he ceased from that work–it declared that it was God who had delivered the people from their bondage in Egypt, and that they should rest on it from all sin. Besides,

(∴) We do not read of the Sabbath’s being observed before the time of Moses, although at the same time we do not read that it was not. If, however, it had been instituted in Paradise, its observance certainly would not have been overlooked among the ceremonies performed in patriarchal times.

Is there nothing then in the words designed for the use of man? We say certainly. We may draw this conclusion from them, that, if Adam had remained in his state of innocence, God would have encouraged him to keep holy that particular clay. For from such a state it may easily be inferred, that it would have been agreeable to God that on every seventh day man should contemplate him in his works, and shew forth his praise and glory,– that, although this could have been done at all times, he should yet remember on that day the great work which God had finished. There was nothing to prevent him from solemnly doing so on that day which was a sign of the finishing of the work of creation. We see nothing in this certainly, at all inconsistent with the condition in which he was placed. We may infer moreover from the words that God designed sometime or other to enjoin the sanctification of this day by a peculiar and strict resting from work in remembrance of the finished work of creation. We find that such an injunction was imposed upon the Israelites, Deut. v. 14. We have thus seen that in the accidental state there was a certain external sign of the natural.

But we said that there was in the accidental state not only a manifestation but a proof or trial of the natural. God placed man in that state for the purpose of putting his constancy and fidelity to the test, and of affording him an opportunity by the prohibition of making a right use of his liberty. As a father tries his son, the general his soldiers, and a man his friend, with the view of drawing from them some outward sign of friendship or valor, so God dealt with man. On this point there is no difficulty, and it is unnecessary to say more.

The name usually given to the condition in which man was placed (status accidentalis), is the covenant of works. In treating this subject we shall

1. Show what a covenant generally means,

2. Explain what is commonly understood by the covenant of works with its foundations and consequences, and

3. Advert to a distinction which must be observed.

1. We may know what the general meaning of a covenant is by attending to the name given to it in the original. It is called berith from the root bthr, the primary meaning of which is to cut in two. From this sprang other significations, such as choosing as it were by cutting, and setting an object apart to another use. Now the idea of a covenant arises naturally from this meaning of the word–that of cutting in two namely,–because formerly a covenant was made by dividing the body of an animal into two parts, and by the parties passing between them, Jer. xxxiv. 18. And hence also we have the expressions scindere or ferire fœdus. But the name is variously used. It is not only employed to denote a friendly agreement on the part of two or more individuals, but it also denotes this without conveying the idea of a covenant at all. We find it used to express an absolute promise. Such was the covenant which God made with Noah that he would not again destroy the earth by a flood, Gen. i x . 9-11. This was simply a promise on the part of God. We have a similar instance in Is. lix. 21, and in many other passages in which the word means nothing more than simply a promise given by God. It is also used to denote a precept without the idea of a covenant. ” I made a covenant with mine eyes,” Job. xxx i . 1. “They have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them,” Josh. vii. 11; the injunction namely which he had given the Israelites not to take of the spoils of Jericho. We read again, “They have broken the everlasting covenant;’ Is. xxiv. 5, i.e., the natural law.

A covenant is a voluntary agreement on the part of two or three persons to enter into friendship on certain conditions, or to renew it when broken, and is usually accompanied for the purpose of confirmation by the observance of ceremonies of various kinds.

The form of a covenant is twofold, interior and exterior.

The interior form comprehends its essential parts, such as (.)

The parties voluntarily contracting, (..) The benefit to be enjoyed by both. (∴) The condition or the law on each side, and (::) The mutual consent freely and spontaneously given.

The exterior form comprehends the various rites and ceremonies with which the forming of a covenant was usually accompanied, in order that the consent of the parties might be ratified. These ceremonies were various, such as (.) An oath, as in the case of Abraham With Abimelech king of Gerar, Gen. xxi. 2 3; (..) Feasting, as happened between Isaac and Abimelech, Gen. xxvi . 30; (∴) The cutting of an animal into two parts, and the passing of the contracting parties between them, to shew that he who should violate the compact would deserve a similar treatment, Jer. xxxiv. 18, and (::) Sacramental rites which were signs and seals of a covenant, as circumcision and the Passover under the” Old Testament dispensation, and baptism and the Lord’s supper under the New Covenants are of various kinds. At present we mention only one–we mean a covenant which is formed between either equals or unequals.

In the former the parties are on the same footing in regard to rank and right. In the latter the one party is superior and the other inferior, and such is the covenant of which we are now treating. The parties who entered into it were unequal–God on the one side and man on the other, between whom, although properly speaking there could be no covenant in their case, the agreement nevertheless had something of the appearance of one. Now in a covenant of this description the superior party makes a promise which is called in Scripture eutole, Matt. xxii . 36; and epaggelia, 2 Tim. i. 1. The inferior party again gives his willing consent to the superior party by whom the promise is made, and upon the condition proposed. This consent is called in Scripture homologia, 2 Cor. ix. 13; Heb. iii. 1; and perhaps also eperotema, which properly denotes a question put by the superior party as to whether the proposed condition he accepted, and thus signifies assent or agreement. But it may also mean the answer which is made to that question, and this is the sense in which the apostle uses it, when he speaks of “the answer of a good conscience,” 1 Pet. iii . 21. The inferior party, moreover, on performing the condition, acquires a right to the promised blessings.

2. Let us now explain what is commonly understood by the covenant of works, with its foundations and consequences. There are two covenants, divines say, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, the former entered into with man in the state of innocence, the second formed with Christ and having reference to man in his fallen state.

The covenant of works it is said consisted in the agreement entered into between God and man, according to which the latter by rendering perfect and uninterrupted obedience to the divine commands in his own strength would have secured for himself the eternal life which was promised.

The covenant of grace again consists in this, that man without any meritorious works on his part, but by faith alone working by love, obtains spiritual and eternal blessings solely by the grace of God, and for the sake of Christ the mediator and surety of the covenant, and enjoys spiritual life, not in virtue of any power of his own, but by the grace of the Spirit imparted to him, so that everything in the covenant is to be regarded as pure grace. But of this more hereafter. In explaining the covenant of works we shall keep by the. description already given. According to some divines this definition rests on the following grounds.

(.) We have, they say, all the parts of a covenant and therefore it is appropriately so called. The parties contracting are God and man in innocence. There is the promise of eternal life. We have the condition, either the moral law written on the heart of man, or the positive precept respecting the tree of knowledge. And then, moreover, there is the willing consent which Adam gave to God who made the promise and who required obedience. Here, therefore, there are all the parts required in a covenant, and there can be no reason why this name should not be given to it.

(..) We also read in one of the prophets, “But they like men have transgressed the covenant,” Hos. vi. 7. In this passage the word translated men is in the original adm, i.e. the first man Adam, and the violation of the covenant is charged upon him as well as upon Israel; –thus proving, that this name should be given to it.

(∴) In the epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, Paul has set the law and the grace of God or works and faith in opposition to each other, and makes mention of the law of works in contradistinction to righteousness by faith in Christ. And hence the notion of the covenant of works is derived, because he speaks of the law of works and of the works of the law. These are the grounds on which the doctrine of the covenant of works is based.

To these, however, may be added certain consequences or consectaries which are supposed to be connected with that doctrine. If the covenant of works it is said be not admitted, then the other covenants which are only repetitions of it must also be denied.

The first of these consequences refers to the Sinaitic covenant which is regarded as a covenant of works, because it contained a repetition of the natural law. It is held to be a renewal of the covenant first made with man.

The second consequence relates to the imputation of the sin of Adam to all his posterity. This imputation is held to be immediate on account of the solitary offence which was committed by Adam in Paradise and the guilt of which lies upon all who descend from him. This imputation is made to rest on the view which is taken of Adam as being namely not only the natural head but as the federal representative of all his posterity, so that the breach of the covenant by him is to be regarded as the sin of those of whom he was the federal head.

The third consequence relates to the active obedience of Christ as a surety, by which he satisfied the demands of the divine law, and which is the meritorious cause of eternal life, as distinguished from his passive obedience which is the meritorious cause of the forgiveness of sin. Now this doctrine regarding these two kinds of obedience is made to rest on the obedience which Adam should have rendered to the divine law, and by which, if he had rendered it, he would have merited eternal life for himself and for his posterity. But as Adam and his posterity sinned, Christ must by his passive obedience obtain the remission of their sins, and by his active obedience acquire for them what Adam failed to acquire –eternal life.

Such is a view of the doctrine held regarding the covenant of works–a doctrine which was unknown to the Fathers, and first invented by the scholastic divinesdisregarded or rejected by the first reformers, afterwards adopted by theologians, introduced at a later period into our own churches, and which has ever since been a fruitful subject of dispute.

As there is much difference of opinion on this subject, as neither one theory nor another can be definitively settled by any public authority, and as the opinion now commonly entertained was unknown in ancient times, we may certainly enter freely into the discussion of the subject. And

1. We would have the consequences or consectaries separated from the question, because they are exceedingly doubtful, in our opinion, and as we shall endeavor to show, false. The Sinaitic covenant is not a renewal of the covenant of works. No mention is made of the imputation of Adam’s sin. The active is improperly separated from the passive obedience of Christ and considered by itself as the meritorious cause of eternal hfe. But even supposing these consequences were true, yet they are not properly connected with what is taught regarding the covenant of works, seeing that the state of the first man may be conceived to subsist without implying in it any thing conveying the idea of a covenant, and because immediate imputation may be defended by itself, although there be no such covenant. They should therefore be kept completely separate from the question, and those divines judge rashly who suppose that certain doctrines which seem to them of some considerable importance depend on the covenant of works, when the existence of such a covenant cannot be distinctly proved or at least is involved in no little doubt. What are we to say then regarding those doctrines, which they represent as depending on the covenant of works? Assuredly just this that they rest on a very insecure foundation.

But let us enquire into the grounds on which the opinion we are now considering rests, and let us begin with the last i.e., the mention made by Paul in the epistles to the Romans and the Galatians of two covenants as opposed to each other. It is surprising that this opinion should be made to rest on what he there says, because he makes no mention, of the covenant of works. He speaks only of the law of works and of the works of the law, of law and grace, but not of a covenant between God and Adam in his state of innocence or of the federal condition of our first parent. On the contrary he speaks of the law and of the righteousness of the law, in relation to the law given at Sinai and to the legal dispensation understood according to the opinion of the Jews and to the letter as a certain external covenant to which he opposes the covenant of grace. This has been satisfactorily proved by Vitringa, and to his work, we refer the reader.

The second ground or foundation, i.e., the passage from the book of the prophet Hosea, is somewhat stronger than the former. “But they like men (Heb. like Adam) have transgressed the covenant,” Hos. vi. 7. Here it is said express mention is made of a covenant, and of Adam with whom the Israelites in transgressing the covenant are compared. For the phrase we are told, like Adam, cannot signify man in general, but must mean the first man from whom all the rest are descended.

But we reply, that even admitting this explanation it affords no countenance to the idea that there was a covenant between God and Adam, much less that there was a representative covenant or a covenant of works. The word covenant is of ambiguous meaning, and is used sometimes in an absolute sense for a law and precept without any reference whatever to a covenant. Why then might not the sense of this passage be, “As Adam transgressed the prohibition–the law expressly given him, so Israel has broken my law enjoined solemnly upon them.” Can the mere notion of a covenant then which is involved in uncertainty be a sufficient basis on which to rest this doctrine?

But, even admitting the notion or the proper signification of a covenant, it is not proved that there is any resemblance between the Israelites and Adam, and that the covenant mentioned referred equally to both. For it is well known that in making comparisons we must have a third object in view in which properly comparison consists. Now what in this case is the test of the comparison? Is it a covenant or the manner of the transgression?

We say that it is the manner of the transgression; for the prophet is not comparing with each other a first covenant with Adam and the covenant made with the Israelites so often mentioned by the prophets, but he is comparing the manner in which the chosen people broke the covenant with the manner in which Adam violated the law expressly given to him. In this the resemblance consists. For Adam received a law expressly from God as well as Israel–Adam of his own accord and perversely transgressed that law as well as Israel. It is in the manner of the transgression therefore that we are to seek for the similitude or the third object with which the two are compared, and therefore the interpretation of this passage still remains involved in doubt. But we have an argument to adduce in favour of our explanation–an argument drawn from Scripture which also makes the resemblance to consist in the manner of transgression. Paul speaks of some who have not sinned “after the similitude of Adam’s transgression,” Rom. v. 14. Some therefore have so sinned. And inasmuch namely as Adam broke the law which was expressly enjoined upon him, the Israelites were like him in this respect, and all resemble him who transgress a law which they have received and known. This is not applicable to infants, and therefore the apostle says that they do not sin after the similitude of Adam’s transgression. This interpretation is countenanced by other passages of Scripture. Thus we read, “If I covered my transgressions as Adam by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom,” Job xxxi. 33. Is the transgression the point of comparison here? Unquestionably not, but the manner of covering or concealing. We read again, “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted and were destroyed of serpents,” 1 Cor. x. 9. The subject of the comparison here is not Christ but the temptation: “let us not,” as if he had said, “tempt Christ in the way in which the Israelites tempted their deliverer.”

But the expression ” like Adam” and the whole passage is capable of another interpretation and may mean they have become like Adam, just as we find in the 8th and 9th verses ” Gilead is a city,” &c., i.e., their city is like Gilead, and “as troops of robbers” &c., i.e., their priests are as it were a troop of robbers. What then is it to be “like Adam?” It means that they are like the heathen and act as if they were not joined to me by covenant. For Adam does not always signify the first man but also the heathen who are sometimes expressly called by this name in Scripture, and Adam and Israel are in some passages opposed to each other, the latter as a people in covenant and the former as not,–the sons of Adam and the sons of God. Now such also may be the meaning of this passage. They, that is to say, are like Adam, inasmuch as they act like those who are not related to me by covenant–they have transgressed the covenant–they act in regard to it like the heathen. In other words, by violating the covenant they have brought themselves into a condition resembling that of the heathen. From this passage therefore the existence of a covenant cannot be certainly and satisfactorily proved.

The third ground or foundation is this, that we have here all the parts of a covenant and therefore the name of a covenant cannot but be applied to it.

But we answer that, while we admit that we have these parts materially, we deny that we have them formally. There is the substance but the form is wanting, which however a covenant of necessity requires both internally and externally. Yet neither of these is mentioned. For we nowhere read of a covenant between God and man or Adam (and this in the present case is absolutely indispensable), nor have we the internal form of a covenant–the willing consent of the contracting parties.

But to make tho distinction clearer, whether, namely, the notion of a covenant of works taken in its true sense agrees with a state of innocence, let us keep in mind the difference between the state in which man was created and the state in which he was placed. In regard to. the former, which we have already described, we wish it to be especially observed,

(.) If a federal state be not inconsistent with it, yet a covenant of works is so; because that covenant in its nature and signification implied that man in virtue of his obedience might attain a blessing as a reward in the exercise of his own powers. But the idea of reward and merit properly so called is as inconsistent with the natural state of uprightness as with the state of grace. For whatever man possessed in that state he was indebted for it to his Creator, and in his unfallen state was bound to worship God without constraint. He stood moreover in the relation of a son to God, and accordingly as a son would have obtained every blessing as his inheritance if he had continued in that state. Still less can eternal life be regarded in the light of merit and reward, because there is no proportion between it and the obedience which man renders here. So far moreover from man’s being able to merit any blessing for others, i.e., for his posterity, he cannot do so even for himself. Every thing therefore that enters into the covenant relation must be kept out of view in this case, because such a relation implies the existence of merit.

(..) The notion of a covenant, besides, without taking merit into consideration at all, is obviously useless, because it does not serve to give us a clearer understanding of what the natural state was. This state moreover does not require that there should be a covenant. For to what end and for what reason is a covenant made? Is it to make or confirm friendship or to form or strengthen a mutual obligation? Neither of these can be affirmed in the present case. For friendship already existed between God and man, as close and intimate as it is possible to conceive; while the obligation under which man lay and which flowed from his very nature was too strong to require any confirmation. What purpose then could a covenant serve? A mutual obligation between a father and a son does not need certainly that a covenant be formed to constitute or strengthen that obligation, because that obligation cannot be rendered more binding by a covenant than it naturally is.

(∴) But if a covenant be of no service in the natural state it may perhaps be said that that state admits of an alliance or agreement of some kind. Let us see.

First, then, if the natural admit of a federal state (status fœderalis) this must be derived only from the view taken of the former. Now Moses nowhere calls it by the name of a covenant, and there is no reason why he should have done so. If it be said therefore that it was a federal state, this must necessarily spring from the idea of the natural state as being really such. But this no one probably will affirm because then the two states could not be separated from each other. Why then should the natural state be called federal? In the second place, the notions of a natural and federal state are so widely different that they cannot consist with each other. It is not sufficient to the federal state that there are contracting parties, mutual consent, a promise and conditions. These have reference only to the matter of a covenant not to its form and essence. Something more is required.

Let us examine then whether the notions of the two states agree. We hold that they do not, because they mutually exclude each other. There are two things especially which serve to mark out the distinction between them.

(.) The natural state is necessary;–the federal state is free. Friendship or obligation in the former springs from the natural relationship which subsists between God and man, whereas in the latter it is the result of compact, and mutual and free consent. In the former man is bound by nature to love and worship God; in the latter obligation springs only from his voluntary consent, it is spontaneous and in other circumstances would not be binding upon him. Is there no difference then between these? between man’s being by nature under an obligation, and his being under it by his own free consent? Unquestionably there is. The former belongs to the natural state, the latter to the federal state–in which, but for its federal character, man would not have been under such an obligation. The natural obligation therefore must always be necessarythe federal presupposes consent freely given. The obligation, for instance, between father and son arises out of the natural relation in which they stand to each other. The two things then are certainly different–to be under a natural obligation, and to come under an obligation of one’s own accord. But free consent as we have said belongs to the nature of a covenant and is its essential property.

(..) There is still another distinction between them. In the natural state the obligation is coeval with it, whereas in the federal state the obligation is super-induced by the formation of a covenant which supposes that friendship does not exist or that it is to be renewed, otherwise the making of a covenant would be superfluous. The federal state accordingly is not contemporaneous with the natural but is always subsequent to it. They are not the same, therefore, nor ought the ideas of them to be confounded. In a word, the natural state is perpetual, the federal is accessary, and therefore in our opinion the former is improperly represented under the idea of a covenant. But if any choose to understand a covenant in so wide a sense as to embrace in it any kind of obligation and connection between two partiestheir mutual agreement to the same laws, the same conditions, and the same benefits promised,–we certainly will not dispute about the word. We are quite willing that every man give what name he chooses to this state. Let it be called a covenant then, if nothing else be understood than that there were certain laws and promises in the natural state. But if the question be concerning the proper signification and use of the word covenant, then we hold that the natural state is improperly called federal, and that the two states cannot be confounded with each other.

Let us now consider the condition in which man was placed, and which according to the account given by Moses consisted in the prohibition with the threatening of death annexed to it, “In the day that thou eat thereof thou shalt surely die.”

Is this state properly called a covenant and a covenant of works? We answer

(.) That it is nowhere so called by Moses nor in any other part of Scripture. Why therefore should the federal state be contended for with as much eagerness as if it were a matter of life and death?

(..) In every covenant, even in that which is divine, a promise always holds the first place. The very nature of the thing requires this, and Scripture when speaking of any covenant made by God uniformly teaches this. But there is no express mention of a promise in this case. We have only a prohibition and a threatening. Unquestionably if Scripture designed to represent this state as federal it would have made especial mention of a promise given to the first man, and would afterwards have added the threatening. The promise as we have said may indeed by the law of opposition be inferred from the threatening, by implication we mean. This we do not deny, but it is not sufficient to confirm the notion that this state was one of covenant. There is no mention of a promisethere is only a prohibition and threatening, and we leave it to be judged whether these can be called a covenant of any kind or a covenant of works.

(∴) In the covenants of which Scripture speaks we uniformly find sacraments used as signs serving to ratify and confirm them. But in this case there is no sacrament, no external sign nor seal of a covenant. The tree of life indeed was a sign of eternal life but it was not the sign of a covenant. The types of certain things are not always to be viewed in the light of sacraments. In the present instance we see nothing that can be considered as an external sign or sacrament of a covenant, The tree of knowledge of good and evil cannot, as some maintain, be so regarded, because it was the use only of that tree which was forbidden to man. But it was not the sign of a covenant, not to speak of the impropriety of confounding a prohibition with a sacrament.

(::) A state of probation, moreover, is utterly inconsistent with a covenant of works, for by observing the prohibition man could merit nothing. This state however was really one of trial in which he was to give an external sign of his obedience, But this does not imply that there was any covenant or sacramental sign of it. And Adam by abstaining from the tree did nothing more than show by an external sign that he kept the natural law and acted agreeably to the relations in which he stood to God, such as may have place in a probationary state, but he did nothing which suggests the idea that his condition was one in which he could merit any thing at the hand of God. But still some may ask whether the consent or agreement between God and Adam may be understood after the manner of a covenant, in reference, that is, to the way in which man was put to the test by means of the prohibition and the threatening, such as may exist between a father and a son when they agree in the manner of showing their fidelity by giving also an external sign of it.

We do not deny that in such a sense this state may be called a covenant, not however a covenant of works but as we have said a covenant of probation.

We have said enough we think to establish the doctrine which we hold on this subject and to show that there was no such thing as a covenant of works. We hold that there was no such covenant in the natural state and speak simply of the condition of man in innocence as consisting of that in which he was created and of that in which he was placed.

Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1850), 435-454. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; italics original; and underlining mine.]

[Note: Richard Muller:

Hermann Venema (1697-1787); studied at Groningen (1711-1714) and Franecker (1714-1718). In 1723 he succeeded the younger Vitringa as professor of theology at Franecker, a post he held until his retirement in 1774. His dogmatic work was published posthumously in English translation: Institutes of Theology (1850). Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 1:51 [first edition]. ]

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 at 11:07 am and is filed under God who Covenants. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed at this time.