God entered into Covenant with Adam. § 2.
The Promise. § 3.
Condition of the Covenant.
Condition of the Covenant. § 5.
The Parties to the Covenant of Works.
Perpetuity of the Covenant of Works.
GOD having created man after his own image in knowledge, righteousness,
and holiness, entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of
perfect obedience, forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and
evil upon the pain of death.
According to this statement, (1.) God entered into a covenant with
Adam. (2.) The promise annexed to that covenant was life. (3.) The condition
was perfect obedience. (4.) Its penalty was death.
§ 1. God entered into Covenant with
This statement does not rest upon any express declaration of the
Scriptures. It is, however, a concise and correct mode of asserting a plain
Scriptural fact, namely, that God made to Adam a promise suspended upon a
condition, and attached to disobedience a certain penalty. This is what in
Scriptural language is meant by a covenant, and this is all that is meant by
the term as here used. Although the word covenant is not used in Genesis, and
does not elsewhere, in any clear passage, occur in reference to the
transaction there recorded, yet inasmuch as the plan of salvation is
constantly represented as a New Covenant, new, not merely in antithesis to
that made at Sinai, but new in reference to all legal covenants whatever, it
is plain that the Bible does represent the arrangement made with Adam as a
truly federal transaction. The Scriptures know nothing of any other than two
methods of attaining eternal life: the one that which demands perfect
obedience, and the other that which demands faith. If the latter is called a
covenant, the former is declared to be of the same nature. It is of great
importance that the Scriptural form of presenting truth should be retained.
Rationalism was introduced into the Church under the guise of a philosophical
statement of the truths of the Bible free from the mere outward form in which
the sacred writers, trained in Judaism, had presented them. On this ground the
federal system, as it was called, was discarded. On the same ground the
prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of Christ were pronounced a cumbrous
and unsatisfactory form under which to set forth his work as our Redeemer. And
then the sacrificial character of his death, and all idea of atonement were
rejected as mere Jewish drapery. Thus, by the theory of accommodation, every
distinctive doctrine of the Scriptures was set aside, and Christianity reduced
to Deism. It is, therefore, far more than a mere matter of method that is
involved in adhering to the Scriptural form of presenting Scriptural truths.
God then did enter into a covenant with Adam. That covenant is
sometimes called a covenant of life, because life was promised as the reward
of obedience. Sometimes it is called the covenant of works, because works were
the condition on which that promise was suspended, and because it is thus
distinguished from the new covenant which promises life on condition of faith.
§ 2. The Promise.
The reward promised to Adam on condition of his obedience, was life.
(1.) This is involved in the threatening: "In the day that thou eatest
thereof, thou shalt surely die." It is plain that this involved the assurance
that he should not die, if he did not eat. (2.) This is confirmed by
innumerable passages and by the general drift of Scripture, in which it is so
plainly and so variously taught, that life was, by the ordinance of God,
connected with obedience. "This do and thou shalt live." "The man that doeth
them shall live by them." This is the uniform mode in which the Bible speaks
of that law or covenant under which man by the constitution of his nature and
by the ordinance of God, was placed. (3.) As the Scriptures everywhere present
God as a judge or moral ruler, it follows of necessity from that
representation, that his rational creatures will be dealt with according to
the principles of justice. If there be no transgression there will be no
punishment. And those who continue holy thereby continue in the favour and
fellowship of him whose favour is life, and whose loving kindness is better
than life. (4.) And finally, holiness, or as the Apostle expresses it, to be
spiritually minded, is life. There can therefore be no doubt, that had Adam
continued in holiness, he would have enjoyed that life which flows from the
favour of God.
The life thus promised included the happy, holy, and immortal existence
of the soul and body. This is plain. (1.) Because true life promised was that
suited to the being to whom the promise was made. But the life suited to man
as a moral and intelligent being, composed of soul and body, includes true
happy, holy, and immortal existence of his whole nature. (2.) The life of
which the Scriptures everywhere speak as connected with obedience, is that
which, as just stated, flows from the favour and fellowship of God, and
includes glory, honour, and immortality, as the Apostle teaches us in Romans
ii. 7. (3.) The life secured by Christ for his people was the life forfeited
by sin. But the life which the believet derives from Christ is spiritual and
eternal life, the exaltation and complete blessedness of his whole nature,
both soul and body.
§ 3. Condition of the Covenant.
The condition of the covenant made with Adam is said in the symboIs of
our church to be perfect obedience. That that statement is correct may be
inferred (1.) From the nature of the case and from the general principles
clearly revealed in the word of God. Such, is the nature of God, and such the
relation which He sustains to his moral creatures, that sin, the transgression
of the divine law, must involve the destruction of the fellowship between man
and his Creator, and the manifestation of the divine displeasure. The Apostle
therefore says, that he who offends in one point, who breaks one precept of
the law of God, is guilty of the whole. (2.) It is everywhere assumed in the
Bible, that the condition of acceptance under the law is perfect obedience.
"Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things written in the book of
the law to do them." This is not a peculiarity of the Mosaic economy, but a
declaration of a principle which applies to all divine laws. (3.) The whole
argument of the Apostle in his epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, is
founded on the assumption that the law demands perfect obedience. If that be
not granted, his whole argument falls to the ground.
The specific command to Adam not to eat of a certain tree, was
therefore not the only command he was required to obey. It was given simply to
be the outward and visible test to determine whether he was willing to obey
God in all things. Created holy, with all his affections pure, there was the
more reason that the test of his obedience should be an outward and positive
command; something wrong simply because it was forbidden, and not evil in its
own nature. It would thus be seen that Adam obeyed for the sake of obeying.
His obedience was more directly to God, and not to his own reason.
The question whether perpetual, as well as perfect obedience was the
condition of the covenant made with Adam, is probably to be answered in the
negative. It seems to be reasonable in itself and plainly implied in the
Scriptures that all rational creatures have a definite period of probation. If
faithful during that period they are confirmed in their integrity, and no
longer exposed to the danger of apostasy. Thus we read of the angels who kept
not their first estate, and of those who did. Those who remained faithful have
continued in holiness and in the favour of God. It is therefore to be inferred
that had Adam continued obedient during the period allotted to his probation,
neither he nor any of his posterity would have been ever exposed to the danger
§ 4. The Penalty.
The penalty attached to the covenant is expressed by the comprehensive
term death. "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." That
this does not refer to the mere dissolution of the body, is plain. (1.)
Because the word death, as used in Scripture in reference to the consequences
of transgression, includes all penal evil. The wages of sin is death. The soul
that sinneth, it shall die. Any and every form of evil, therefore, which is
inflicted as the punishment of sin, is comprehended under the word death (2.)
The death threatened was the opposite of the life promised. But the life
promised, as we have seen, includes all that is involved in the happy, holy,
and immortal existence of the soul and body; and therefore death must include
not only all the miseries of this life and the dissolution of the body, but
also all that is meant by spiritual and eternal death. (3.) God is the life of
the soul. His favour and fellowship with him, are essential to its holiness
and happiness. If his favour be forfeited, the inevitable consequences are the
death of the soul, i. e., its loss of spiritual life, and unending
sinfulness and misery. (4.) The nature of the penalty threatened is earned
from its infliction. The consequences of Adam's sin were the loss of the image
and favour of God and all the evils which flowed from that loss. (5.) Finally,
the death which was incurred by the sin of our first parents, is that from
which we are redeemed by Christ. Christ, however, does not merely deliver the
body from the grave, he saves the soul from spiritual and eternal death; and
therefore spiritual and eternal death, together with the dissolution of the
body and all the miseries of this life, were included in the penalty
originally attached to the covenant of works. In the day in which Adam ate the
forbidden fruit he did die. The penalty threatened was not a momentary
infliction but permanent subjection to all the evils which flow fiom the
righteous displeasure of God.
§ 5. The Parties to the Covenant of
It lies in the nature of a covenant that there must be two or more
parties. A covenant is not of one. The parties to the original covenant were
God and Adam. Adam, however, acted not in his individual capacity but as the
head and representative of his whole race. This is plain. (1.) Because
everything said to him had as much reference to his posterity as to Adam
himself. Everything granted to him was granted to them. Everything promised to
him was promised to them. And everything threatened against him, in case of
transgression, was threatened against them. God did not give the earth to Adam
for him alone, but as the heritage of his race. The dominion over the lower
animals with which he was invested belonged equally to his descendants. The
promise of life embraced them as well as him; and the threatening of death
concerned them as well as him. (2.) In the second place, it is an outstanding
undeniable fact, that the penalty which Adam incurred has fallen upon his
whole race. The earth is cursed to them as it was to him. They must earn their
bread by the sweat of their brows. The pains of childbirth are the common
heritage of all the daughters of Eve. All men are subject to disease and
death. All are born in sin, destitute of the moral image of God. There is not
an evil consequent on the sin of Adam which does not affect his race as much
as it affected him. (3.) Not only did the ancient Jews infer the
representative character of Adam from the record given in Genesis, but the
inspired writers of the New Testament give this doctrine the sanction of
divine authority. In Adam, says the Apostle, all died. The sentence of
condemnation, he teaches us, passed on all men for one offence. By the offence
of one all were made sinners. (4.) This great fact is made the ground on which
the whole plan of redemption is founded. As we fell in Adam, we are saved in
Christ. To deny the principle in the one case, is to deny it in the other; for
the two are inseparably united in the representations of Scripture. (5.) The
principle involved in the headship of Adam underlies all the religious
institutions ever ordained by God for men; all his providential dealings with
our race; and even the distributions of the saving influences of his Spirit.
It is therefore one of the fundamental principles both of natural and of
revealed religion. (6.) What is thus clearly revealed in the word and
providence of God, finds a response in the very constitution of our nature.
All men are led as it were instinctively to recognize the validity of this
principle of representation. Rulers represent their people; parents their
children, guardians their wards. All these considerations are in place here,
when the nature of the covenant of works, and the parties to that covenant are
under discussion, although of course they must come up again to be more fully
examined, when we have to speak of the effects of Adam's sin upon his
posterity. Men may dispute as to the grounds of the headship of Adam, but the
fact itself can hardly be questioned by those who recognize the authority of
the Scriptures. It has therefore entered into the faith of all Christian
churches, and is more or less clearly presented in all their authorized
§ 6. Perpetuity of the Covenant of
If Adam acted not only for himself but also for his posterity, that
fact determines the question, Whether the covenant of works be still in force.
In the obvious sense of the terms, to say that men are still under that
covenant, is to say that they are still on probation; that the race did not
fall when Adam fell. But if Adam acted as the head of the whole race, then all
men stood their probation in him, and fell with him in his first
transgression. The Scriptures, therefore, teach that we come into the world
under condemnation. We are by nature, i. e., as we were born, the
children of wrath. This fact is assumed in all the provisions of the gospel
and in all the institutions of our religion. Children are required to be
baptized for the remission of sin. But while the Pelagian doctrine is to be
rejected, which teaches that each man comes into the world free from sin and
free from condemnation, and stands his probation in his own person, it is
nevertheless true that where there is no sin there is no condemnation. Hence
our Lord said to the young man, "This do and thou shalt live." And hence the
Apostle in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, says that God will
reward every man according to his works. To those who are good, He will give
eternal life; to those who are evil, indignation and wrath. This is only
saying that the eternal principles of justice are still in force. If any man
can present himself before the bar of God and prove that he is free from sin,
either imputed or personal, either original or actual, he will not be
condemned. But the fact is that the whole world lies in wickedness. Man is an
apostate race. Men are all involved in the penal and natural consequences of
Adam's transgression. They stood their probation in him, and do not stand each
man for himself.