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What the Bible teaches about man and sin

The doctrine of man: God’s covenant with Adam.

Below is a question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism with answers and supporting Scripture proofs. Explanatory notes follow.

 

Q: What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?

A: When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience 1; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death2.

1 Galatians 3:12Galatians 3:12
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.  

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— And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.
2 Genesis 2:17Genesis 2:17
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. thou shalt surely...: Heb. dying thou shalt die  

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— But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

 

One of the very first acts of Divine providence in relation to mankind was the making of a covenant with Adam. It appears that this covenant was made with him immediately upon his creation and placement in Eden, even before Eve was formed from him. These were events that occurred then on the sixth day of creation.

This was the first covenant that God made with man. Because man fell and failed in Adam to keep the demands of this first covenant, God in mercy entered into another — the covenant of Grace made with an elect remnant from among fallen mankind represented by Christ as their federal head (the last Adam, I Cor 15:45).

A covenant is simply a mutual agreement between at least two parties. The agreement usually has a conditional element and then a promissory part that is realized on the fulfillment of the condition. In covenants involving fallible parties there may often be a penalty clause as well. This covenant that God made with Adam is termed the Covenant of works. While this is not a term that is itself used in Scripture yet the language of Scripture makes it clear that such a covenant exists. The evidence of a formal covenantal arrangement between God and Adam is seen:

1. In that all the component parts of a formal covenant are easily discerned in Genesis 2:16-17Genesis 2:16-17
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: thou...: Heb. eating thou shalt eat 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. thou shalt surely...: Heb. dying thou shalt die  

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There are several parties: God and Adam; there is a clear condition requiring obedience; and there is a stated penalty for breach of covenant and an implied promise for keeping the terms of the covenant.

2. The Scripture does specifically refer to such an arrangement, Hosea 6:7Hosea 6:7
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

7 But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me. men: or, Adam  

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I  THE PARTIES TO THE COVENANT.

This covenant was made between two parties — God and Adam. Adam must be regarded in two senses here. He is seen as a private person acting for himself. He is also seen as a public person acting in the interests of the entire human race which was in him, and which he represented federally. This is proved by the fact that when Adam sinned all mankind sinned and fell with him. This federal relationship will be developed further in Part ?.

 

II   THE PROMISE OF THE COVENANT.

The promise that was made in the covenant of works was life. This is deduced from the penalty which God attached to the breach of its terms. Cp Romans 10:5Romans 10:5
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

5 For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.  

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, Galatians 3:12Galatians 3:12
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.  

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. The life here promised to Adam was two-fold:

a. A continuance of the physical and spiritual life that he presently enjoyed. He would be confirmed in both.

b. The addition of eternal life which he did not at that moment have. He would in essence have been glorified — confirmed immutably in God’s image eternally.


III   THE PROVISO OF THE COVENANT.

The condition was simple — perfect obedience of a sample command. The command itself, not eating of the forbidden fruit, embodied within its terms the whole of the Law of God. The Moral Law is a full expression of the covenant of works. Cp Luke 10:28Luke 10:28
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.  

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. Adam was capable of such obedience at this time. He had the Law of God written on his heart; he was made in the likeness of God with positive holiness and righteous inclinations. It is to be noted here that the Law of God could still give life today if men were able to keep it. Two things prevent man obtaining life by the Law: the powerlessness of his nature to any good (Romans 8:3Romans 8:3
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: for sin: or, by a sacrifice for sin  

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); and the fact that man is no longer on probation — that probationary period ended with Adam’s fall.

 

IV THE PENALTY OF THE COVENANT.

The penalty was death, Genesis 2:17Genesis 2:17
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. thou shalt surely...: Heb. dying thou shalt die  

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, Romans 6:23Romans 6:23
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

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. The death that was threatened affected every part of man’s constitution and relation to God.

1. It would mean the separation of his soul from his body in physical death. From that moment Adam began to die physically.

2. It would mean the separation of his soul from God in spiritual death. This instantaneous as man’s rebellion immediately alienated him from God and led to his banishment from Eden.

3. Eternal death in the everlasting exclusion of the soul and body from the presence of God to everlasting destruction.

 

V  THE PERPETUITY OF THE COVENANT.

It must be remembered that men are still under this covenant today. It is of course a broken covenant but it is not abrogated. If it were then there would be no sin, no reason for the existence of physical, spiritual and eternal death in every case where it prevails. It was because the effects of a broken covenant of works would live on forever that God in mercy devised means to redeem fallen mankind under the terms of the Covenant of Grace. The covenant of works existing in the Moral Law:

1. Condemns and pronounces its curse on sinners, Galatians 3:10Galatians 3:10
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.  

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2. Pronounces the believing sinner righteous for Jesus’ sake Who, acting as the Federal head of His people, perfectly discharged their obligation to obey as well as paying the penalty of their sin.

 

Next topic: Adam’s fall into sin

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