If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to open with me to Genesis 1. We read the passage last week, and we will look at it again. In Genesis 1 we will focus on verse 24 and following.
Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired Word, may He add His blessing to it. Let’s look to Him now in prayer.
Our Father we thank You for this Word, and as we begin to study it, concentrating on the truth of the covenant contained therein, we pray that our eyes would be opened that we would have a clear understanding of the truth of Your Word, that we would be captivated by the glory of that truth and that we would be better enabled to communicate that truth to others. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Exegetical Basis of the Covenant of Works
I want to begin today looking with you at the exegetical basis of the Covenant of Works. And that means of course, concentrating closely on Genesis 1 and 2. There is a sense in which Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2: 3 serves as a preface for the covenantal formulation of Genesis 2:4 – Genesis 2:17 or 24, however you want to divide it. Liberals used to make much about these supposedly two alternative and contradictory creational accounts. I trust that all of us understand that nobody could possibly be so bad an editor, to accidentally, unwittingly put two creational accounts which were in fact alternative and contradictory side by side and leave them in the book that he had edited. And certainly no one as talented as the person who edited Genesis clearly is. So understand that there is a theological, as well as a literary agenda, for placing these two accounts side by side.
And as you see the first so-called account of creation from Genesis 1:1 running to Genesis 2:3, it is clear that the focus is to put man in context in God’s original created order. And then beginning in Genesis 2:4 there will be significantly more concentration on the nature of the relationship between God and man. In fact, themes that are introduced in Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 will be taken up again in Genesis 2:4 and following and amplified. So there is every sign of literary and theological connection between these two accounts. They are not placed here in a haphazard way. They are not placed here in an irresponsible way theologically. They logically and theologically build on one another.
Now having said that as we look at the creation account itself, it is very apparent that the culmination of this account is in the sixth day. And that is not just because the sixth day is the last of the creative days. It is because in that day, the announcement of the creation of man in the image of God is made and we read enough of that sixth day account beginning in verse 24 to give you the literary feel for the language that has already been used. Notice what God stresses in verse 24, “let the earth bring forth creatures after their kind.” So it is stressed that creatures after their kind, after their genus, after their species are from henceforth and forever going to be brought forth. It is stressed that cattle and creeping things and beasts all will be produced. How? After their kind. In the likeness of the genus in which they were originally created and then it is stressed again in verse 25: God made the beasts of the earth after their kind. The cattle after their kind. Everything that creeps on the ground after its kind and God saw that it was good. And so His original creation is good but He is making things according to their kind.
And then there comes this monumental announcement in verse 26, and that announcement is what? “Then God said, let us make man in Our image” and you see immediately the contrast between the beasts being made after their kind and man being made after God’s image. And so we can remember, some of us, who heard Nigel Cameron preach back in the spring at First Presbyterian Church, tremblingly he said, “We may say reverently that whereas the beasts of the earth are made after their kind, man is of the genus of God.” Now, that is a shocking way of putting it and we don’t want to stress that in some sort of a Kenneth Hagan way—we are “little gods” theologically—but recognize what is being said about man here. Man is of an altogether different order and you see immediately a fundamental and unresolvable clash between a biblical anthropology and a secular evolutionary anthropology which says we are of the same basic stuff as the animal world. We are simply a more highly evolved animal. And in bold and in direct refutation and confrontation with that kind of view, the Bible says “No, human beings are not of the same kind, or species or genus as the animal creation. They are a unique creation of God, uniquely created by Him to bear His image.” And so you can see even looking at verses 24 and 25 and 26, this chasm that is being put between man and the animal creation by the Lord in His Word, and the exalted position. So everything has been building to this moment to explain to man the place that he has in the universe. And so as we look at this passage together, especially from verse 26 on down, I want to make clear what it means for man to be made in the image of God. And then we will move on to explain a little bit in detail about the nature of the relationship that man has with God. We will get into a little of that as we look at this passage, but it will be expanded when we look at Genesis 2:4 and following.
First of all, notice as we have already mentioned, that man is distinct from the animal creation. Five times it is said that the animals are made after their kind, in verses 24 and 25. But in verse 26 it is explicitly said that man is “in Our image according to Our likeness” and this is the Lord speaking. This is the triune God speaking, saying, “I am creating humankind in My image, in My likeness.” Man is unique. It is not that he is simply smarter than the animals. It is not because he is simply more highly evolved than the animals. He is of an altogether different genus.
Now I know of no better place in a postmodern world for you to begin an apologetic encounter witnessing to the truth of the Gospel than that, because human beings feel less significant today than ever before. Now they are puffed up with pride, but deep down inside they feel an incredible lack of significance because of the worldview that they have by and large adopted. It is a worldview that has reduced them to the status of some sort of an evolved being in a universe that does not care about them, because that universe is non-personal. And I know no better place to engage this culture than right at that point and to say, as far as Christianity is concerned, we are not a human animal as some anthropologists like to put it. We are not a human animal. We are uniquely endowed with certain divine attributes by the Lord Himself. And you know, if the Lord Himself hadn’t said it, you would find it hard to believe. You really would. You would wonder if it wasn’t just a little bit blasphemous if the Lord Himself hadn’t said it.
But again, do you not see the incredible goodness of God in creation in that very thing? He didn’t have to do that. Just this lavish goodness of God, saying, I am going to take this creation that I have made out of the dust and I am going to exalt this creation. And I am going to make this creation vice-ruler of the world, and I am going to endow this creation with My own attributes so that he is like Me. Unbelievable.
Notice also, that we see in verses 26 and in 28 that man is endowed with a capacity for, and a responsibility for, dominion or rule. Man is endowed with a capacity for, and a responsibility for, dominion or rule. You again see that language in verse 26: “Let them rule.” And then again in verse 28: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and rule.” So there is a stress or an activity of government and ordering that implies that the man has both rationality and righteousness because, in God’s world, the function of ordering isn’t just the job for a good administrator; it is a job for someone who has rational capacities which bear and reflect the image of God and is righteous. It is a moral function here. Ordering the earth is a moral issue. You can’t order the earth from an immoral base.
And so the very fact that man is being called to rule reminds one of the rational and the righteous aspects in which he bears God’s image. This aspect of God’s image, this aspect of rule or dominion is stressed in the divine command of Genesis 1:28, “subdue it and rule.” And it is also stressed in the declaration of verses 29 and 30. If you look down at those passages, the implication of this particular command is clearly set forth there with regard to the sphere of their responsibility and dominion. By the way, we are going to stress this when we look at the life of Noah, but if you flip over to Genesis 9:2-3, this same rule is reiterated in Genesis 9 to Noah. “The fear of you and the terror of you shall be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky with everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea into your hand, they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you. I give all to you as I gave the green plant.” Again the same order is obtained in redemption that had been established in creation. When God sets forth His redemptive covenant in the life of Noah, He restores the order and ordinances that He has originally given in the Garden before Adam fell. Now by the way, this is precisely the thing that is celebrated in Psalm 8:4 and following, “What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him? Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, And dost crown him with glory and majesty! Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.”
It is telling, isn’t it, that the author of Psalm 8 begins with a reflection on the heavens and he has got to have Genesis 1 either before him or very much in his mind as he does this. Because in Genesis 1 what you are overwhelmed by is this God who is so massive as to speak the heavens into being. And you go on for a couple of verses there in Genesis 1 about God making the sun and the moon, and then in that little throw-off phrase in verse 16, you get “He made the stars also.” He made the stars also. How many billions of stars are there? Yet He so awesome, so powerful, so mighty, that in a little phrase, two or three words in Hebrew, He made the stars also. And anybody in their right mind as a human is overwhelmed by that spectacle. You are looking up there at the night sky. If you are out deep into the dark woods, maybe you can see 1500 or more stars with the naked eye on a clear night. And it is overwhelming, and you feel small and that is exactly how the Psalmist felt in Psalm 8. What is man that you have crowned him with power and glory and given him dominion and rule? That is exactly the response that Genesis 1 is designed to evoke, but the fact of the matter is that Psalm 8 acknowledges exactly what Genesis 1 says, that yes, you tiny little human being, you are made in the image of God and you are made to rule that world. It is mind-boggling. That is what it means to be in the image of God: to be distinct from the animal creation and to be endowed with the capacity for rule and that involves ordering in a rational and a righteous way.
Thirdly, however, it also means being a bearer of certain of God’s attributes. To be made in the image of God, not only means to be distinct from the animal creation, it not only means to be endowed with the capacity for responsibility for rule, but it means to be a bearer of certain of God’s attributes. And this is made clear by the analogy of Genesis 5 verses 1-3. If you would turn to that passage, notice the rehearsal of this in the genealogy of Adam in the book of Adam. Genesis 5. “This is the book of the generations of Adam in the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them, male and female and He blessed them and named them man in the day they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he became the father of the son in his own likeness according to his image and named him Seth,” and so it is reiterated that man bears certain aspects of the very attributes of God. His image. His likeness. Now these attributes are not spelled out in so many words. There is not a nice listing of them, as much as we would like to have that in the first two chapters of Genesis, but there is enough there for us to put together a decent list. And we ought to look at that real briefly.
The Attributes of God in Man
First of all, it is clear that as God is rational, so also is man. As God is rational, so also is man. Now this is implicit of God. What I am calling rationality is implicit of God in Genesis 1:1-25. There, God Himself is seen to be rational. And all I mean by rational at this point—and I am not trying to over stretch this—all I mean is having intelligence and will, having the ability to formulate plans and execute them. That is very clear from Genesis 1:1 and following, that God is that kind of God. He is a God who plans and who carries out. He formulates the thoughts of His mind and He carries them out by His divine will. He speaks those thoughts into being. That is stressed in the very structure of the language that Moses uses for the first six days. And man, too, is endowed with this kind of rationality and knowledge and understanding and this is seen, for instance, in Adam’s naming of the animals in Genesis 2:19-20. Understand that that action of naming the animals in not only an exercise of its rule. When an explorer explores and “finds” or “discovers” a new country, what does that explorer usually get to do? Name it. When Adam names the animals, that is a function of his rule, his dominion over them. In other words, it is a divine signifier that God has put him in charge. He is the one who gets to name the animals, not the other way around. So it is a sign of his rational capacity.
But we must also recognize that there is every indication that Adam’s naming of the animals is not arbitrary, but that the names that Adam assigns to the animals are correspondent to their nature. Notice again that in redemption, for instance, in passages like Colossians 3:9-10, this aspect of the restoration of man’s true capacities for knowledge and rationality are stressed. “Do not lie to one another,” Paul says, “since you have laid aside the old self with its evil practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” So the true knowledge that we possess as redeemed is what? According to the image of the One who created us. So that is true about Him and it is true about us. So part of being in the image of God is that rational capacity, and man’s rationality is reflected in his rule, his understanding is a gift of God.
That too, is a very important for our witness for our evangelism. If we forget that the true knowledge of God is a gift, we may be tempted to think that we can produce that true knowledge in someone. Only God can bestow that. There are certain things that we are called to do and be very faithful in our responsibility to carry those out in bearing witness. But we must recognize that, ultimately, only God can bestow that kind of true knowledge on a person. That is why we are prayerfully dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit in His grace.
2. Secondly, as God is personal, so also is man. And you cannot miss, in the interaction from Genesis 1:26 on, that God as a personal being is interacting with man as a personal being and even the hints that you get in the language of 1:26, ‘’Let Us make man in our Own image,” hinting perhaps not only at the majestic exalted position of God, speaking with a Royal We, but perhaps even pressing forth to the doctrine of the Trinity itself, reminds us that God Himself is in communion with Himself, because He is both three and one. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are in communion and therefore God is personal. And it is interesting, isn’t it, that it is stressed that man is personal as well, and therefore has relational capacities. “Let us make man in Our image according to Our likeness and let them rule.” So the male and the female aspect of man is stressed from the very beginning and is seen as part and parcel of His ability to convey the personalness of God. Thus the very differentiation of the sexes, male and female, is part of the image of God which we bear and reflect.
Now the implications of this are tremendous. I couldn’t possibly begin to apply all the implications of that. One thing, however, does come to mind again, in our society which is so vital, and that is the whole issue of the homosexual movement. You understand that homosexuality depersonalizes a human. It depersonalizes a human. It dehumanizes a person because it denies the essential male-female sides of the human marital relationship that are at the very core and foundation of the society which God created in the original creation. It denies the essentialness of that and it says, “No, male and male and female and female, same sex unions are capable of functioning and reflecting the fullness of humanity just as well as male-female relationships.” And we will talk more about that perhaps at some other time. But the practice itself is a denial of the scriptural teaching on man in the image of God.
3. Thirdly, we can also say that man is moral. Man is moral. That is another of his attributes as an image-bearer. We are told in Genesis 1:31 that God made all things good. That is because, of course, He is good Himself. “God saw all that He made and behold it was very good,” Genesis 1:31. Man, too, is endowed with righteousness and holiness. He knows what the good is. And again in redemption this is stressed. In Ephesians 4:24, Paul will say, “Put on the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” So Ephesians 4:24 says the new self has been created in the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness of the truth, so this moral aspect, this personal aspect, the rational aspect, all of these are part of man as image bearer. So that is all a subset of what we are saying about man as a bearer of certain of God’s own attributes. God is personal. God is rational. God is moral. And we reflect His image in those. And we could more than this, but we certainly can’t say less than this.
4. Fourthly, life is sacred. Now we move on to another aspect of what it means to be made in the image of God. It not only means that we are distinct from the animal creation, it not only means that we are endowed with the capacity for dominion and rule, it not only means that we are the bearers of certain of God’s attributes, it means fourthly that man’s life is sacred because of the image and it must be treated so. This is stressed in Genesis 9:5-6. In that passage, it is stressed that precisely because man is in God’s image, capital punishment is required by capital crimes. The argument is precise and this is so important to hear because you will hear some advocates of anti-capital punishment legislation argue that they are arguing their position on Christian grounds and they will argue something like this: “Man is created in the image of God. Who are we to take that life away from anyone, no matter what they have done, because they are indelibly made in the image of God. How can we take the life of someone?”
Now that is not God’s logic. God’s logic is recorded not only in Genesis 9, but elsewhere. But in Genesis 9, His logic is this: Because man is so special, because man is an image bearer, when a man violates the principles of My law so grossly so as to take the life of another human being, they have just purchased by that action, the inalienable right to pay for that action with their own life. And to put it in the very language of Genesis 9, we have a responsibility to bring to bear capital punishment for capital crimes because of the image of God in man.
God’s argumentation is anything but a diminution of the sacredness of man. And so in Genesis 9, we have this kind of argumentation: Anything less than capital punishment for capital crimes dehumanizes man and devalues his life.
By the way, that passage in Genesis 9 also reminds us that the image of God was not lost at the Fall. If you have read any stuff as high powered as Barthian anthropology, whether you are reading Barth’s Doctrine of Man, or Bruner, or someone else, you will find the idea that man lost the image of God at the Fall. That is not the historic Reformed doctrine of man, and it is made clear in Genesis 9 that even after the Fall, though the image is effaced, it is not erased. So Noah lives after the Fall, and still God speaks of the image to him.
This, by the way, is the only adequate basis for the establishment of basic human rights and respect. And again, friends, this is such an excellent area for you to press in a postmodern society. We are “rights crazy” in this society. We think that there is a right for everything. And you can use that to your advantage because, the funny thing is, as these rights have multiplied, the grounds, the foundations for these rights have eroded because we do not live in a society which by and large believes in transcendent truth anymore. People just believe that you kind of make it up as you go along. There is no transcendent basis for truth. It is either individually produced or it is societally agreed upon. But it is not transcendentally and universally true.
But how can you have a right that is not transcendentally and universally true? How can you have an inalienable right, if there is nothing that is transcendentally true and essential about that particular right? Well, when you hear people arguing for human rights, whether it is in the context of race, or sex, or religion, or whatever else, you as a Christian have a reason, and a good reason, and a ground on which you can argue for certain basic elemental rights. And that ground and reason is the doctrine of the image of God in man. We do not believe, as believers, as Christians, that just because someone worships a false god, that they cease to be in the image of God. And therefore, we have certain basic responsibilities to them, even if they are idolaters. We are called, by the Lord, to love them. We are called to respect them in certain ways. And we are even called to defend their own elemental rights by the Lord as a part of our responsibilities to Him.
But a modern or a postmodern non-Christian is in big trouble trying to set forth a doctrine of why it would be wrong, for instance, for Hitler to exterminate Jews. I mean, why not? I mean they were declared non-persons weren’t they? What is wrong with that? And your doctrine of man in the image of God gives you an incredible leverage because there are people who, at a gut level, sense that there ought to be certain basic human rights. They have perhaps expanded those rights too far and they have perhaps not thought through why there ought to be those certain things, but they have a gut hunch or instinct that there are these things. But you are the only person who can supply them the ground of that because this is God’s world and God’s world only works the way He made it. It doesn’t work the way that other people make it up as they go along. So again, here is a great launching point for a Gospel discussion with someone. Do you believe in human rights? You do? Or, you don’t have a reason to. I do. How is that for a starter? And I promise you that is a good discussion to have.
One more thing. Let me mention this: We see here in Genesis 1, and perhaps especially set forth in Genesis 2:7, that man is endowed with an immortal, spiritual aspect to his being. This is seen not only in the giving of the Tree of Life in the Garden, but it is even seen in the phrase of Genesis 2:7, “then the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” Genesis 1 and 2 speak of man as a personal, self-conscious being with the capacities of knowledge and thought and action, but he is a personal, self-conscious being with those capacities who goes on forever. He was not made like the animals and the plant world to be here today and gone tomorrow. He was made for eternity. And this is another one of the aspects of his distinction from the animal world.
Now, we have glanced upon the obligations that the Lord gave in Genesis 1:26 and following, but I want to go back and look at them in more detail. We have defined covenant already in a couple of different ways. We have mentioned Robertson’s description of the covenant: it is a bond in blood sovereignly administered. Let me throw out another definition of covenant. Robertson, himself, as you will remember, opens the book by saying, “Defining a covenant is sort of like defining your mother.” The dictionary definition sort of falls short. It is hard to give one definition that includes everything that you need to say about a covenant.
But here is one that I think will help you see the covenantal nature of Genesis 1:26-31: A covenant is a binding relationship with blessings and obligations. A covenant is a binding relationship with blessings and obligations. Now that is not adequate in any way as a total, final definition of “covenant,” but it certainly stresses at least a couple of things doesn’t it? It stresses first of all that a covenant is a relationship. It is a special kind of relationship. It is a binding relationship. And in a religious context, of course, it is a saving relationship. Furthermore, it is a relationship that involves both blessing and obligation, both promises and responsibilities. And low and behold, as we look at Genesis 1:26 and following, that is precisely the pattern we see there of the relationship that is described between God and Adam.
Why am I mentioning this? Because you will have noticed that nowhere in Genesis 1 and 2 is the term “covenant” used. In fact, that term “covenant” will not occur until Genesis 6:18. But let me hint ahead and steal my thunder a little bit ahead of time. It is very interesting that there are two ways of speaking about the making of a covenant in the Pentateuch and elsewhere in the Old Testament. One can speak of making a covenant firm. Sometimes your translations translate that as “establishing a covenant” and one way is to speak of “cutting a covenant.” The one, the latter, the cutting of the covenant, often refers to the inauguration of the covenant. The other phrase often refers to the confirming of an already established covenant relationship, to make that covenant firm. Is it not interesting to you that in Genesis 6:18, the passage says that the covenant was made firm? Now that is the first usage of “Covenant” in the Bible. But the very language forces you to understand that there was a covenant before it was mentioned. And the only question is, how far back did it go? Now we will look at that passage in detail because that is important. But it is very important for us to understand that the whole structure of the covenant of God with Noah implies with massive force that it is a continuation of a previously established relationship.
Now, I could show you other places in the Bible where the concept of covenant is present and the term is not. For instance, in II Samuel 7, God establishes His covenant relationship with King David, this glorious culmination with David. And you remember the story. David sets out to build a temple for the Lord and the Lord says, “David, don’t build Me a temple.” And you remember there is a play on words there. David says, “I am going to build a house for the Lord,” and the Lord comes back to David and says, “David, will you build a house for Me? No, I will build a house for you.” So there is a wonderful play on words in that passage that we will look at very closely in a few weeks, but in the passage, the covenant is established with King David.
Now how do we know a covenant is established there since the word “covenant” is not mentioned? We know it two ways. First of all, know it because of the contents of what is transacted between God and David in II Samuel 7, even if we had no other reference explaining to us what was going on there. The very contents of the chapter contain the elements of a covenant. Secondly we know because Psalm 89 tells us it was a covenant. So the Bible will look back and see II Samuel 7 as a covenant-making event and Psalm 89 confirms that.
Now there are indications in the Scripture in various places, and we will look at this at some point, that the relationship of Adam and God in the Garden in covenantal. In other words, that actual terminology is used. Hosea 6:7 is one of the classic passages that we will have to look at in some greater detail, but there are other passages as well that give indication of this covenant relationship.
What we are going to concentrate on today, however, is showing you that the elements of the covenant are already here without any further comment from Scripture. The elements of the covenant are here. First of all, notice in verse 26 that God creates man in His own image and designs him as the vice-ruler over His creation. And this verse reminds us that man was created in God’s image and likeness and he was destined for dominion over the remainder of creation. By the way, the uniqueness of man is seen in the phraseology of 1:26. If you were to look at the other creative days, for instance, Genesis 1:3, Genesis 1:6, Genesis 1:14, those creative days begin with what phrase? “Let there be…” But Genesis 1:26 begins with what? “Let Us make….” So again, the uniqueness of man in the creative order is expressed by Moses even linguistically; even linguistically he is distinguishing man from the rest of God’s creation.
Now let me say in regard to Genesis 1:26 and man as ruler and man as image, there is both a dynamic and a static element to the image of God. How can I put that in more understandable language? There is both an aspect of the image that is inherent in us as we are made as persons and there is an aspect of the image that is expressed in us as we act. In other words, we both are the image of God and we express the image of God in our actions. Both of those aspects of the image are present there in Genesis 1:26. We are in His image and we must reflect that image in our actions.
Secondly, in Genesis 1:26 and 1:28, we see that God established certain blessings and obligations for man at the very outset of his relationship with man. So we see a unique relationship established between God and man in Genesis 1:26. God endows man with something that He has not endowed any other part of His creation with. He endows him with a responsibility that He has not given to any other part of His creation. And then, in verses 27 and 28, we see both blessings and obligations attached to that particular relationship from the very outset. So here we have a relationship with attendant blessings and obligations.
There are four great obligations in that relationship. Perhaps I should put it this way: There are at least four great obligations in that original relationship, and, ironically, corresponding to those four great obligations are four great blessings. So the blessings and the obligations of this relationship in Genesis 1:26 and following are coordinated. The blessings come in the obligation, the obligation comes in the blessing. It is interesting how God tied that together. It reminds us, doesn’t it, that the way of blessedness, or the way of happiness, is in the way of duty, because in the very created order, God made duty and the doing of duty to be blessed. Now that is such an alien concept to our culture. We tend to think that if you have to do something, that kind of ruins it. If you have to do it, how can you really desire to do that? Isn’t that against grace or something like that? But the idea that duty is opposed to grace is utterly alien to biblical thought. It is alien to Moses. It is alien to Paul. It is alien to Jesus. Some of you may know of Robert E. Lee’s famous quote, “Duty is the sublimest word in the English language.” It is up on a plaque in The Citadel. If you have ever been to The Citadel, the military university of South Carolina, you will see it on the walls as you walk in. “Duty is the sublimest word in the English language.” And that idea is totally alien to our culture, because duty is confused with “I have to do it.” But here we see in the very duties of the created order, the blessings are intertwined, so that as man does what God created him to do, interestingly enough, he finds his fulfillment and his satisfaction and his happiness and his blessedness.
The Creation Ordinances
What is meant by a creation ordinance? By a creation ordinance, we mean a pattern of responsibility woven into the very fabric of the creation by God as He originally made it. A pattern of responsibility woven into the very fabric of creation as He originally created it. If you have read John Murray’s Principles of Conduct, Murray comes up with seven creation ordinances. Perhaps most frequently we hear of three creation ordinances. I am not so concerned about the numbering as I am of us grasping the concepts of these creation ordinances.
1. The first creation ordinance that we see there is the ordinance of procreation. Genesis 1:28. The ordinance of procreation. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” This is the first of the creation ordinances given in Genesis 1 and, of course, it is related directly to marriage as we will see when we finally get over to Genesis 2:23-24. And it is obviously essential for the fulfillment of the later mandates of labor and dominion. Adam and Eve as two isolated individuals, no matter how powerful in their capacities as unfallen human beings, can’t subdue the whole of this globe. There has got to be procreation in order to harness and order the world as God has established it. And this ordinance, it is made clear in Genesis 1 and 2, was to be expressed only within the bonds of mutual commitment, that is, marriage. So this is an obligation and a blessing. It is an obligation and a blessing. Can you imagine God coming to Adam, and Adam responding, “Do I have to?” “Yes. It is an obligation and a blessing. Be fruitful and multiply.” And there again you see it is a blessing to Adam as a family. Adam needs sons and daughters to help him in the work that he has to do. And so it serves as a familial blessing for his family as a whole, as well as something essential to the fulfillment of the mandates for labor and dominion.
2. The second ordinance that we see, we also see in verse 1:28, and that is the ordinance of labor. The ordinance of labor. “Fill the earth and subdue it and rule.” Now notice the two parts of this ordinance. The mandate is to work. The blessing is that God has given man rule. He is mandated to work, but God has set up the creation so that the lower creation fears man, respects his position of authority, and this dominion mandate expresses itself necessarily in work or labor and thus, work is good. Work is part of the original created order. When we go to heaven, we are not going to heaven either on flowery beds of ease or for flowery beds of ease. There will be work in heaven. That is what we were originally created for. There will be no toil. There will be no frustration. There will be no tiredness. But there will be fulfilling work. The dominion of man was to be expressed in two spheres. You see it in this passage, first in the subduing of the earth and second in the ruling over the animals.
And let me go on to say that this labor ordinance was implicit even in the Sabbath ordinance of Genesis 2:1-3, because what does the Sabbath ordinance do? It puts a limit on labor. It says to man, you can’t work all the time. But it implies the obligation of work on the other six days. So, what are man’s obligations? Procreation. Labor. He is to express dominion. How is blessing entailed in his labor? Not only in the satisfaction of that labor, but also in the dominion that God has given him, the rule that God has given him over his creation.
3. Then, the ordinance of the Sabbath. We see this in Genesis 2:3: “God blessed the Sabbath and sanctified it.” This seventh day is marked by the completion of God’s special created work; His labor was finished in the first six days. The work of creation as such is done. That doesn’t mean that He is inactive. He continues to work in providence in preserving and governing His creation, but the same word, finished, is used here as it is used of Moses finishing the tabernacle in Exodus 40:23, and of Solomon finishing the temple in II Chronicles 7:11, and of Jesus finishing the redemption in John 19:33. The same concept used here—same term.
Notice also that these labors which are rested from are the creational labors. God’s finished work of creation is sealed with these words, “He rested.” And what is being implied is cessation from that special creational activity. As we said, that doesn’t mean that God is inactive; He continues to nurture, and that is seen from the following.
First, we see it from our Lord’s constructive use of the Sabbath. The Pharisees’ Sabbath was by and large merely a negative Sabbath entailing cessation from certain activities, whereas the Lord’s Sabbath was actively a Sabbath of deeds of mercy and necessity in addition to worship. For an example, see John 5:15-17: “The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. And for this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.’” So he indicates that God’s cessation from the creational activity doesn’t mean that God is utterly inactive on the Sabbath. It just means that the focus of that activity has changed.
Second, Jesus’ preservation of the creational pattern of the Sabbath. And what is that creational pattern, that the Sabbath is both blessed and holy. It is both a blessing and something to be set apart. Both of those aspects. And once again, here we are seeing how the creation ordinance of the Sabbath is both an obligation and a blessing. The original Sabbath was both a blessing and an obligation. Notice Jesus’ words of it, about it in Mark 2:27-28. “And He was saying to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
Notice what is being stressed there: that man was given the Sabbath as a blessing. Man wasn’t created for the sake of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was created for the sake of man. It was for his good. It was a blessing of God to him. And what is the other side of it? So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. It is the Lord’s day. We have an obligation to the Lord that day to follow in His way with worship, deeds of mercy and necessity, just as He observed that day. So we see that pattern of blessing and hallowing, of blessing and obligation, of blessing in responsibility upheld in Jesus’ explanation of the Sabbath in Mark 2.
Then, finally, as we saw from Genesis and as we see again in Hebrews 3, God’s Sabbath was a gift to man. God’s Sabbath was a gift to man. God didn’t need that rest. That is Jesus’ whole point in Mark 2. God didn’t need the rest. He rested because you needed the rest. So His very resting was not a necessity for Him. It was something that you needed that He did out of His love for you. So He rested for your sakes, and we learn in Hebrews 3:7-4:11 that, for believers, the Sabbath is not only a blessing, but it is a promise of a rest to come. So the Sabbath is a day for nurturing, for spiritual life, for worship and service.
In the third verse of Genesis 2, we learn that the Sabbath is set apart and specially favored by God because of His rest from creation. “Then God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” Because of His resting, which He did for our benefit, God both favored and hallowed the Sabbath. He blessed it and He made it holy. He blessed it in the sense that He made it an effectual means of blessing to those who sanctify it by rest, worship and service. And He sanctified it, in the sense of making it holy or hallowed, whatever term you want to use, by consecrating it and setting it apart for a holy use.
Now remember, friends, those who are hearing Genesis 1 read to them for the first time, have already heard the Ten Commandments from God’s own mouth. Remember that now. Those who are hearing Genesis 1 read to them for the first time, have already heard the Ten Commandments spoken to them from God’s own mouth. So Moses is not telling them about something new when he speaks about the Sabbath in Genesis 2:1-3, he is not telling them about something that they have never heard of before. He is telling them about something that they have already heard of, but now he is telling them where it came from. The whole structure of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a gigantic argument for the Sabbath. It is simply a gigantic argument for the Sabbath by explaining to the people of God where the Sabbath came from. And I think it is not surprising that the Exodus emphasis on the Sabbath is specifically mirroring creation. It is not until Deuteronomy that you get the redemptive significance of the Sabbath stressed in the Ten Commandments as they are recorded there. And so the Sabbath serves not only as a memorial of redemption, as we see in Deuteronomy, but it serves as a memorial of creation. It is woven into the very fabric of creation. So that is the third of the ordinances that we see in Genesis 1:26-2:3.
4. The fourth ordinance that we will look at is the ordinance of marriage. We not only have the ordinance of procreation, the ordinance of labor, the ordinance of Sabbath, but there is also the ordinance of marriage. And the ordinance of marriage is seen in Genesis 2:24-25. And let’s think about that for a few minutes. It is made clear in Genesis 2:18 that man had social needs even in paradise. Man had social needs even in paradise. He has relational needs, human relational needs, even in paradise. Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
So even with everything pronounced good, God announces that “it is not good for man to be alone.” This is the first thing that has been described in God’s creation as not good. It is the only thing that has been described in God’s creation that is not good. It is not good for man to be alone. So, solitary fellowship with God even in paradise is not God’s plan for us. By the way, you see in that verse the seed for the doctrine of the church as well. Solitary fellowship with God is not God’s plan. We need one another and such a plan that invites believers into individual experiences with the Lord apart from mutual relations and obligations with the body of believers ignores this basic creational human need for companionship.
Secondly, as God calls Adam to name the animals in Genesis 2:19-20, God makes Adam more aware for his need for this companionship. As we have said before, the naming of those animals demonstrates that man is the monarch of all he surveys under God, but it also reminds Adam that there is no one out there for him, like him. He needs a helper suitable to him, a perfect fit, a support, and an honored mutual companion. Genesis 2:21-23 record God’s provision for this need, and man’s grateful acknowledgment of that provision to God. God creates a companion for Adam because there was none for him before. Woman is made for him. Eve is made to be Adam’s crown and glory and man stands in need of her. It is perhaps significant that Adam was asleep when she was created and so he can take no credit for her creation, for her provision, for nature. He contributed nothing to her, except the stuff which God had already given to him.
And then in Genesis 2:23-24, God in his special creative providence establishes the very foundations of marriage. And here we see the creation ordinance of marriage. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Now both Moses and Christ then, see this provision of Eve for Adam as the very foundation of marriage. Jesus makes that clear in Mark 10:6-9 where He goes right back to this passage when the issue of divorce is brought up by the Pharisees and He basically says to them, “You can’t even begin to talk about divorce until you understand marriage first.” And where does he take them? Right back to Genesis 2. And I think that is important for us to remember because before we are able to reassert marriage in our culture, we need to understand what it is. It is grounded in this creational ordinance.
And then of course in verse 25, Moses reminds us that there was no sin in this original order or relationship, and therefore, there was no shame. They were naked, and they were not ashamed. No sin, no shame, no barriers to relationships with one another. No barriers with relationship to God. That need for covering was a result of the Fall. And so this is the fourth of the ordinances. And again, the blessing of this relationship is obvious. It is an ordinance, it is a mandate, but it is a blessing. And so we see woven into Genesis 1, though the word is not mentioned, we see a binding relationship with attendant blessings and obligations. And the blessings are set forth even as the obligations are being set out in Genesis 1:26-31.
The Covenant Established
Now with that as the background, with that as the preface, we see the establishment of this covenant relationship in Genesis 2:4-25. First in verses 4-14, I would like you to see the blessing of the Covenant of Works set forth, the blessings of the Covenant of Works. God’s original covenant with man was filled with privileges. And Moses gives you a sampling of those privileges. First in verses 4-6, he gives you a brief reminder of what the world was like before the creation was completed in the sixth days. He gives you a synopsis of what the primordial world was like, what the form, what the shape, what the visage of the world was like before God’s completion of it. Why does he do that? Because he wants man to appreciate that the form of the world which he experienced in the paradise of Eden is not how the world was before God completed His six days. It is this enormous, undeserved gift that God has given to man. Even this paradisiacal surrounding that he has provided with Adam is a gift of God to him. And God wants Adam to know what the world was like before He finished working on it. It would be like taking him into a garden and saying, “Now Adam, I want you to understand this garden was not always like this. Two years ago, it was a bed full of weeds, but this is what I have done. And of course it is even more radical than that. There was nothing here, and then there was a something here that was disorganized, and now, I, the Divine Creator, have organized it and filled it and blessed it and made it fruitful and I have given it to you.” So the first thing that we see in these verses is that the paradise of Eden was God’s gift to Adam. It was one of the blessings that God gave to Adam at the very outset of the relationship.
In verses 7-9, Moses continues to meditate on the original environment of Adam as he thinks about his origin. Notice those words, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being. The Lord God planted a garden toward the east in Eden and there He placed the man whom He formed. Out of the ground, the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food. The tree of life in the midst of the garden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” So man is formed out of the ground. God breathes into him his own breath and makes him a living soul and immortal being. He plants a garden. He provides man for food. He places two trees in that garden which are distinct from all the other trees. One of these trees is a sacrament. We’ll talk about it in a moment. The other tree is a test. So again, God, having created us from the dirt, blesses us with goodness.
Then in verses 10-14, we are reminded again of the blessing of this original relationship. Man’s original environment is said to be perfect. We have the description of the rivers that flowed out of Eden to water it. We have a description of the natural resources of that land and what we have is a picture of man’s original environment as extraordinarily rich in resources, water, gold, precious stones. So in the first verses of Genesis 2, especially from verse 4 down to verse 14, what we see are the blessings of this original relationship set forth.
Then, as we continue on from verse 15 down to verse 17, we see the responsibilities of this covenant relationship. “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden, to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man saying, ‘From any tree of the Garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it, you shall surely die.’” So I want you to see here that in paradise, God has entered into a special relationship with Adam. We see this in at least three ways. We see it in the blessing of God’s image in Genesis 1:26-31, we see it in the provision of the creation Sabbath, in Genesis 2:1-3, and we see it in the blessings of the original creation given to Adam in Genesis 2:4-14. So in each of those ways, God is showing us the kind of condescension, the kind of good and blessed condescension that He is engaged in as He enters into this relationship with Adam.
Now this relationship, of course, is undeserved in the strict sense. And there is nothing about Adam that requires God to do this. But notice also there is no demerit in Adam either. There is no demerit that needs to be overcome in him. He is created. He is good. He is righteous. Just because he is created, doesn’t mean that he deserves these blessings. God gives them to him anyway.
As we said last week, we distinguished that kind of activity of God from grace, simply because sin is not present here. Later when he shows this kind of goodness in condescension, it will be grace-based. Why? Because sin is present and grace is for the purpose of overcoming sin. There is no demerit, there is no sin here to overcome. What God is doing is not merited. Adam has not merited this. We use the phrase Covenant of Works, not to say that man earned these blessings, but to express the fact that this original relationship had no provision for the continuation of God’s blessings if disobedience occurred. So it was a covenant contingent upon Adam continuing in his obligations. And here in Genesis 2:15-17, the specific aspect of his obligation, that is, of not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is brought into sharp focus.
Now that is not the only thing that Adam has to do in this relationship. We have already seen four things that he is responsible to do. He is responsible for procreation. He is responsible for labor. He is responsible to hallow the Lord’s day and he is responsible to procreate in the context of marriage. So those things are already established as obligations. But the negative test and obligation of this original relationship we see here in Genesis 2:17-18. Look at the nature of this relationship.
Let’s break it down for a few moments. We have already said first of all that there are ordinances in this relationship. There are positive ordinances. Procreation, labor, Sabbath, and marriage. So there are obligations in the relationship. There are also prohibitions in the relationship. We might put it this way: there are positive obligations—there are things that he is supposed to do, and there are negative obligations—there are things that he is not supposed to do. Specifically, he is prohibited from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord says, “From the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat.” So you have ordinances. Positive ordinances. Negative ordinances. And you have a consequence spelled out. There is a penalty given: In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die. So what do we have here? Well, we have a relationship divinely established between God and Adam. So we have a bond. We have life and death consequences in the penalty. So we have a bond in blood. And let me also say that we have blessings implied in this relationship, not only in the ordinances, but also in the presence of the tree of life, because that tree of life reappears where? Not only in Ezekiel, but in Revelation. And where is it? It is in the presence of God and the company of the redeemed. And so it is a hint of what is in store for Adam, if he is faithful in the keeping of the obligations.
And finally, we have these stipulations, these ordinances and prohibitions sovereignly administered by God. And so we have all the elements of a covenant, whether you want to define it as a bond in blood sovereignly administered, or whether you want to define it as a binding relationship with attendant blessings and responsibilities. All the elements of a covenant are there. But the word isn’t found. Now this made John Murray very nervous, and so he didn’t want to talk about a Covenant of Works. He didn’t want to talk about Covenant of Creation. He wanted to talk about this as the Adamic Administration. I am going to come back and talk about those kind of reservations at a later point. But let me just share with you a little bit of speculation and see if you can follow this. Why would the term covenant not be found here, if it is so important structurally to this argument, especially as seen in Paul in Romans 5? Well, think about it for a moment. If a covenant was a Near Eastern cultural convention, something that grew up in a Near Eastern society as a way of expressing binding obligations and promises, could it be that Moses was being careful not to read back the specific terminology of a cultural convention prior to its appearance in human culture? Could it be that by the time of Noahic covenants, the language, the concept of that were well known in human culture in the Near East, but that prior to that, the concept had not fully or adequately developed and that Moses, precisely because he wants to be so faithful to the historical accounts that he is giving, refrains from using the language of covenant although it is entirely appropriate as a concept theologically to the situation? Could it be that the fact that we don’t have the word there in Genesis 1-5 is simply a testimony to Moses’ strict and particular and careful attention to historical detail in his recounting of the original chapters of the life of man? We will have to ask him when we get to heaven, because ultimately we can’t give an answer to that question. But I think it may be interesting if we view the covenant as a human convention that was common in the ancient Near East. We know it was common in the third and in the second millennium BC in the Near East. If we view that as a human convention which God divinely chose to illustrate the nature of His relationship to His people, it makes sense that Moses would have refrained from using the terminology in the original order before that convention had been developed in human culture. Because the minute that God takes up the convention, things about it change, because it is not like any other human agreement or relationship. But the concept is clearly there. The elements are all there.
Why is this Covenant Important?
What is the significance of all this? Well, let me see if I can summarize this for you for a few minutes. As we look at Genesis 1 and 2 in this original covenant relationship, what is significant for us theologically about that original relationship in the Covenant of Works? Well, let me throw out about six things to you here. First, Genesis 1 and 2 give us in no uncertain terms a clear picture of the Creator/creature distinction. We know from Babylonian mythology that creation was often pictured as god birthing the world into being, so that the world was considered to be somehow part of god. This was sort of a Pantheistic notion. God is in the world. The world is in god. They are all connected. And you can’t read Genesis 1 and come away thinking that Moses has a hint of that kind of thinking in the back of his mind, because first there is God, and then later there is this world. And then as Moses explains how the world comes into being, what does he say? God speaks it into being. It is created literally by divine fiat. He decrees it into being. So there can be no idea of this world somehow being part of Him and of Him being somehow part of this world. This is a direct assault on all Pantheistic views of God: all views that say that the world is god and god is the world, god is in those trees, or god is in the grass.
Now the beautiful thing about that is it demythologizes the creation. There is a reason why the rise of modern science occurred under the reign of the Protestant understanding of the Creator/creature distinction. You can’t go down the street and experiment on a tree that might be God, or a demon for that matter. But a creation which God has brought into being, and over which not only He is sovereign, but man is sovereign, can be studied and harnessed and so the creation is demythologized so that it can be studied. We can learn better how it works, so that we can enhance certain aspects of productivity in creation.
Man’s exercise of dominion over the earth is another implication of this Creator-creature distinction. Again, if I am scared that there might be a demon spirit that is locally controlling an oak tree outside, I am probably going to cut a wide path around the oak tree. But when I understand properly that God is in dominion over His creation, then I recognize that there is nothing, there is absolutely nothing that is out from under His providential control. You have to love that beautiful story about the Celtic missionary who winds up in the land of the Franks, and the Franks tell him, “See that oak over there?” “Yep.” “That is the oak of Thor.” “That oak?” “That is the oak of the god Thor. That one right over there. That is Thor’s oak.” “Anybody got an ax?” And he heads right over to it and he chops it down. What is he doing? He is saying, “I don’t care what god you say is in charge of that oak. My God owns that oak. And I will cut it down if I want to.” But the point was to show the sovereignty of God over His creation. Creation is not invested with spirits that are out of control of the living God. God is sovereign. He is distinct from that creation. By the way, that doesn’t mean that man is reckless with his treatment of creation. So often you have heard the charges, “Oh, Christianity, it encourages horrible ecological practices. It encourages people to exploit the environment.” Oh no. You see, we are not the owners, we are just the stewards, we are just working in the vineyard. One day, the Master’s coming back and we are going to have give account for how we used His creation. And so in the very essence of the Christian view of creation there is a rationale for appropriate environmental and ecological concern, because this isn’t our house. It is His. He has given it to us as stewards, and so we had better use it wisely and well. So there is not exploitation implied in dominion. Because why? We are not our own master. We are accountable to Him. By the way, if you have not read Schaeffer on this, Schaeffer will give you lots of ammunition in precisely this area. This is again a nice point of contact with our postmodern culture where you can engage some people to think, because there a many people who say, “Oh it is a traditional western, white Anglo-Saxon male patriarchal system that is responsible for all the ecological and environmental problems in the world today.” And you can say, “Well let’s talk about that a little bit. Let me explain to you the Christian philosophy of creation.”
2. There is a second thing that this original covenant in the structure of Genesis 1 and 2 gives us. It emphasizes the cosmic or universalistic concerns of God. It emphasizes the cosmic or universalistic concerns of God. Now as we have already mentioned before, that is reemphasized in the covenant with Noah and we will look at that later. It is important that we understand that God is concerned with the whole created order, and not just man, as expressed in Genesis 1 and 2, and this protects us from misusing our particularistic doctrine of grace. Let me try and exegete that. As evangelical believers, we may believe that God’s saving grace is visited only upon those who embrace Him by faith. Now we may say additionally, as Reformed evangelical believers, that it is visited only upon those whom God has chosen, who are called. But whatever way, if you’re an evangelical, you have a particularistic view of grace. You don’t believe that everyone is being saved. You believe that only those who trust on the Lord Jesus Christ are being redeemed. What protects you from going to the extreme and denying God’s concern for non-redeemed creation, and for non-redeemable creation? Well, there are a lot of things in the Bible that protect you from that. One of the things that protect you from that is the fact that in Genesis 1 and 2 we see clearly that God is concerned for the totality of His creation. And the universalistic implications of Genesis 1 and 2 counterbalance our particularistic doctrine of grace by affirming God’s broader concerns for humanity. How is that seen? These creation ordinances are just as important for unbelievers as they are for believers. And we ought to work to see unbelievers putting these creation ordinances into practice. It will be a blessing to them and to society and it will in many cases be a gateway to the Gospel. So the creation ordinances are not just for Christians. Creation ordinances, they are for everybody.
3. Third, this original covenant expresses a relationship between God and unfallen, pre-fallen man, which is not by grace. We mentioned this earlier. What do I mean by that? I don’t mean that we deserved all the things that God gave us in the original creation. That is not the point. I don’t mean that we earned all the things that God gave us in the original creation. I do mean, however, that because we were not estranged from God as He originally created us, that this original relationship was natural and without a mediator. I mean, you only need a mediator if there is a fight. You only need a mediator if there is estrangement. You only need a mediator if two sides are at odds.
Now why is that significant? It is going to be very important for you to understand that this is the point at which Karl Barth’s critique of Covenant Theology fails most dramatically. And unfortunately many evangelicals have picked up on some of Barth’s ideas at this point and have imported them unwittingly into their own Covenant Theology, so I am quite keen for you to understand how Barth errs here. Barth wants to argue that all, all of God’s dealings with man are by grace, and that all of God’s dealings with man are through Christ, and that Christ’s mediation is therefore not a post-fall office or function. It is an eternal function that occurs prior to the fall in human experience. You hear what Barth is saying there? He is saying that from the very beginning God had to relate to man by grace and through Christ. And he basically says that the reason was because of the finiteness of man. And unfortunately you see here a category confusion between finiteness and sin. Now we are going to talk about this in the next point. But I want to introduce it here.
Basically (and Professor Barth would be bouncing off the ceiling if I said this in his presence, and he would deny it up and down, but I think I could prove it to you if you gave me enough time), Barth says that man’s fundamental problem in relating to God is not sin, it is that he is man. And in my opinion, and in the historic opinion of the church for two thousand years, that is not the Bible’s view of man’s basic problem in relationship to God. Notice that God has no problem interacting and interrelating to Adam in an unmediated way in the Garden. Adam understands Him. God talks to him. They walk together in the Garden in the cool of the day. There are stipulations, obligations, relationships, blessings, and no hint of a problem of God entering into a relationship with Adam. But Barth wants to say that it is our very creatureliness that separates us from God.
Now let me say one other thing to be very careful of. Calvin dabbles with this idea. He dabbles with the idea that we always need a mediator, not just because we are sinful, but because we are so vastly inferior to God in our finiteness. And he would appeal to passages like Isaiah 6 and the angels, the beings that surround the throne are doing what? Veiling themselves as they cry, “Holy, holy, holy.” Now, were they sinful? No. But they still had to veil themselves in the presence of God. And he will sort of take that and run with that. But Calvin doesn’t use this concept like Barth will use it. Now Barth will go back and he will read all of his theology into Calvin, but he is miles away from what Calvin was trying to do with this point. But I want you to understand that this is a key part of Barth’s critique of Covenant Theology. He does not like the idea of a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace, or a Covenant of Nature and a Covenant of Grace, because he wants grace to be the only way that God relates to man.
Barth’s major error with this is that it underemphasizes sin. You see, Genesis 3 is where Moses is going when he writes Genesis 1 and 2. He wants you to understand that things then were not like they are now. And things are like they are now because of what happens in Genesis 3, and therefore the very nature of the way that God relates to us has to be different. And I do not think that there is any way that you can do justice to the significance of Genesis 3 and man’s original sin if you say that there has always simply been one Covenant of Grace from the very beginning, and there is not a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace.
What we are beginning here is an argument for what is called a bicovenantal structure as opposed to a monocovenantal structure of creation and redemption. The bicovenantal structure of creation and redemption says there is a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace, or a Covenant of Nature, and a Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Nature is prior to sin and therefore it does not have to be mediated and God does not have to provide a mediator or propitiation in order to enter into relationship with man. Whereas, after the fall of man, a mediator is provided out of the graciousness of God, sin is satisfied, and the covenant is fulfilled by Christ in order that we may experience the blessings of the covenant. So you have the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, but what Barth ends up with is an eternal Covenant of Grace.
And by the way, this is the same thing that Herman Hoeksema comes up with, and it is the same thing that many other types of hyper-Calvinists have come up with. So there is continuity between Barth and certain hyper-Calvinists. In fact, there is a sense in which Barth is the ultimate hyper-Calvinist. In fact, I would call Bart a hypersuperlapsarian. And if you want to get into that with me someday, I can explain what I am talking about there. But this monocovenantal view that says that there has been this eternal Covenant of Grace and that it was in place even before the fall, cannot help but downplay sin and see finiteness as our problem, not sin.
4. So, that moves us on to the fourth significance of this original relationship that we have been describing. By a close study of Genesis 1, 2 and 3, we are enabled to recognize the difference between finiteness and sin. For instance, one aspect of Adam’s finiteness was his need for human companionship expressed in Genesis 2:18, when God says it is not good for man to be alone. But notice that Adam is not held culpable for that. And God doesn’t say, it is not good for you to be alone, therefore I can have nothing to do with you without a mediator. No. That is not what happens in Genesis 2:18. Man is recognized to need rest because of his finiteness in Genesis 2:1-3 and so a Sabbath is made for him. He is not made for the Sabbath, but a Sabbath is made for him. Why? Because he is finite. But is that held against him? No. No. It is a blessing. He is divinely created, unfallen, he is sinless. But his constitution needs a Sabbath rest. And it needs a woman. And so sin and finiteness are not the same thing.
Let me put this in another way. Sometimes you hear this phrase said: “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” I know what they are getting at when they say that. But the point I want to bring across is that to err is not human, to err is fallen. To err is fallen. We are not being quintessentially human when we make mistakes. Mistakes is an overused word. We are not being quintessentially human when we sin, we are being quintessentially fallen. If sin is of the essence of humanness, not only does that raise real problems for God’s original creation, but it makes me wonder what heaven is going to be like. Sin does not make me more human. It makes me less human. It is not how God originally created me. And to say, “Man’s basic problem resides in the fact that he is finite and God is infinite and this chasm cannot be crossed, we cannot even conceive Him because he is so majestic, so infinite and we are so finite,” is to miss the whole point of Genesis 3. And Barthian theology over and over confuses finiteness and sin. Again, I think I could argue the case. Barth’s problem was not with sin; it was with man. He basically says, “You know what your problem is? Your problem is that you’re not God. Your problem is that you are not infinite.” And that is not the problem the Bible says that we have. Adam was finite. God did not mock him for that. The problem was that Adam rebelled. Sin is the problem. Rebellion is the problem. Not finiteness. We are going to be finite in glory.
5. Fifthly, this original covenant makes it clear that matter is not evil. This original covenant makes it clear that matter is not evil. God created the world and God called it good. Matter and things are not evil. People’s use of them is. So, if you have proper understanding of the original creation, salvation is not viewed as an escape from matter, or an escape from the body into a pure spirit, as you get in all the manifestations of Gnostic teachings from the first century until today. No, salvation in the biblical sense will involve the whole man, body, and soul, because that body was created good. Now it is very significant that right now on the throne of the universe, human flesh sits, in the ascended Lord Jesus Christ who is forever fully God and fully man. The dust of the earth sits on the throne of glory.
6. Sixthly, and finally, as we study this original covenant, we see that man is created in the image of God and, even after the fall, continues to bear that image, no matter how effaced it is by sin. And thus respect for human beings, as those who are created in the image of God, is established; the equal status and responsibility of all men before God as His stewards of creation is established. Racism and sexism is therefore banished under a Christian worldview, but only under a Christian worldview, since a materialist evolutionist can only argue for human rights by a sheer act of irrationality. There is a reason why Darwinism became a dominant philosophy in nineteenth century England. Because survival of the fittest, far from being a quintessentially anticlassicist argument, is a quintessential class argument which says, “I can give you a reason why I am superior to you; I out evolved you. And therefore I have the right to do with you what I will.” So a materialist evolutionist Darwinist can only argue for basic human rights and human dignity by a sheer irrational act of the will. Only a Christian can provide an adequate foundation for appropriate view of human rights. You notice that human rights, or rights at all, are really contained under the category of the covenant in that realm of blessings and obligations. And rights fall under the blessing of the covenant relationship. They are not infinite, by the way, and they cannot be forever multiplied. They are specific and limited, but they are there. And we are the only ones who can give an adequate argument for that today.
Now we will stop right there and we will come back and look at a few more implications of the Creation, the Covenant, the Covenant of Works, with regard to this whole issue of science and theology, because there is no question that for the last 150 years the major assault on Christianity has come from secular scientism which puts itself forward as a replacement worldview to historic Christianity and says that historic Christianity is irrational and is untenable in a scientific world, and therefore it must be rejected. And I want to make one or two more comments about that and then we will continue on. Let’s pray.