Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Covenant of Works & Eschatological Probation

Does the covenant of works entail only a loss for disobedience or does it simultaneously include a reward offered to Adam had he obeyed?

Jamin Hubner has a blog post up over at his apologetics blog on the Covenant of Works. He argues that the covenant of works only entails a loss of eternal life for Adam's disobedience.
You’ll often hear it said by many Reformed theologians, there’s a covenant of works, and a covenant of grace, and these two covenants compromise the core of “covenant theology.” Law is associated with one, gospel with another. There’s a principle of works given by God (the conditional “do this and live”), and a principle of grace (the unconditional “you will live because of what I’ve done”). And in Eden and at Sinai, there was law and the “works principle,” while with Abraham and the New Covenant there is grace and the gospel principle. 
It sounds so neat and clean. But, for a great portion, it is so wrong. It reads back into Genesis something that just isn’t there. The principle given by God was not “do this and live” but “do this and die,” or to put it another way, “don’t do this and live.” You might think that’s a matter of semantics or word games, but it is actually a theological difference that makes all the difference in the world as to how we understand redemptive history. Let’s again summarize the reality. 
The default condition in the Garden was life. There was nothing to be earned. There was no “probationary period” where if Adam passed a test he would earn eternal life. He had eternal life. (But it could be lost.) There was no “do this and live principle” given by God. There was only obvious commands to do what human beings were made to do (e.g., procreate and tend the soil) and one simple prohibition. All was life and perfect, and there was the possibility of falling from that status if positive action was taken in the wrong direction.
I disagree. On the one hand Adam was created in more than just innocency--he was holy and righteous. On the other hand the protological state in the garden was not the final eschatological state. Adam was not created in a state of glorified eternal life--the kind that the work of Christ offers.

Here is my response to Jamin, that I sent as a comment:
Jamin,
I've appreciated your blog for a while now, always from a distance. I found out about you through James White's ministry at AOM. 
Just a comment about your recent post on covenant theology on the 'works principle'. 
You write: "Greg Nichols making similar challenges in the second appendix to his fabulous work, Covenant Theology, though in much more thorough terms. I’d like to quote so much, but I only have time to mention one phrase that seems particularly noteworthy: “The focus of the prohibition [tree in garden] is not on what Adam stood to gain, but rather on what he stood to lose. That seems to be missed. That doctrine paints Adam as a man with everything to gain and little to lose” (351). Exactly. The opposite is true: Adam had little to gain and everything to lose. And if we dig deeper into these types of differences, it seems that our entire approach as Reformed theologians towards the covenant in the Garden is backwards. This is being missed." 
I agree with you that Adam had everything to lose. He was created as "upright and righteous" 1689 LBC ch.VI or "in knowledge, righteousness and holiness" (WSC #17).
So yes he had everything to lose. 
I believe many (most?) covenant theologians believe that Adam was also given the genuine offer of perfection in an eschatological state or glorification. He did indeed have much to gain: namely the eschatological state.  While Adam's original state of holiness and righteousness went beyond mere innocency, he was also not secured in this perfected state as we will be in the final state. 
Covenant theology does tend to hold that if Adam had obeyed he would not have been on infinite probation but secured something. Of course, this is something that Christ secures for us in not just in redeeming us but securing it by his perfect obedience: he gives us an eschatological state from which we can never fall which is like the Garden but also exceeds Adam's original state. 
I would quote WCF 7.2 "The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience." 
So for example Turretin: "“The tree of life served as a sacrament and symbol of the immortality which would have been bestowed upon Adam if he had persevered in his first state . . . With respect to the future life, it was a declarative and sealing sign of the happy life to be passed in paradise and to be changed afterwards into a heavenly life, if he had continued upright. ” (Institutes, vol. 1, 581)." 
Or Gerhardus Vos: "“The tree was associated with the higher, the unchangeable, the eternal life to be secured by obedience throughout Adam’s probation (or time of testing). After man should have been made sure of the attainment of the highest life, the tree would appropriately have been the sacramental means for communicating the highest life . . . After the fall, God attributes to man the inclination of snatching the fruit against the divine purpose. But this very desire implies the understanding that it somehow was the specific life-sacrament for the time after the probation (Biblical Theology, 28)." 
Nehemiah Coxe says the same things in Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ pp.45-46. p.45 "This was called the tree of life because it was instituted by God for a sign and pledge of that eternal life which Adam would have obtained by his own personal and perfect obedience to the law of God if he had continued in it." 
To put it another way, the protological state prior to the fall was not the eschatological state. Yes Adam had everything to lose in the fall, but the probation was real, not merely to see if he'd fall but to see if he'd obey and thereby obtain the eschatological state the covenant offers. 
For these reasons I don't think you can say that Adam had eternal life in the garden--if by eternal life we mean what the Bible means: the eschatological state of glorification which by its very nature guarantees the impossibility of loss or falling from it. 
I don't think holding to this view of things will lead to baptismal regeneration, eternal justification, etc. I haven't exhaustively documented it here but I am pretty sure this is pretty standard in covenant theology with wide representation (Turretin, Vos, and Coxe as I noted). Of course, I don't want to absolutize the words of men, I am just point out the history. 
In terms of a Biblical exegesis to defend it, I am a bit pressed for time in this already long comment. 
I would point you towards the exegesis of the defenders of the view but would also point to four Biblical theological thoughts:
(1) The relationship between First Adam and his obedience and the Second Adam and his obedience.
(2) The nature of Sonship. Sonship, it seems, has to 'learn obedience' in order to secure the eschatological state (drawing implications and theology from [unincluded] exegesis of Heb. 5:7-9). [I presuppose things that I think can be defended and drawn out exegetically from this passage which is mainly about Christ])
(3) The presence of the tree of life in the final state (cf. Revelation; see also how Vos, Turretin and Coxe explain this)
(4) The nature of glorification-- the situation in the garden is not the eschatological state. The resurrection body is not the body that Adam was created in--indeed this is important because Jesus entered the world in the pre-fall condition that Adam had and he still had to secure the eschatological state for himself and his children.  
I hope you will consider these thoughts in the gracious spirit which I offer them. Thank you for your blog and the chance to interact with it. If you don't mind, I may publish these comments on my blog. For the record, I am a believer in covenant theology who is also a baptist, although I also graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philly, I currently serve as a pastor in the Mt. Pocono Pa. 
Blessings to you in the Lord,
Tim Bertolet 
(I changed some of my original wording above to correct some atrocious grammatical errors in the copy I sent to him.)

It is not as if all Adam had in the garden was things to lose. As part of his probation, he had things to gain--namely the eschatological end. When Adam fails, Christ must do two things: (1) redeem the creation from the curse; (2) usher creation and humanity to that eschatological end for which the world was created. When we say "for which is was created" we mean not the state that it was created in, but rather the goal that was offered to it in its prefall state.

Thankfully it is the eternal Son who steps into creation, offers obediences as the true and perfect Son, and ushers creation to this end so that the children can share in the glory. This is 'the end for which God created the world.'

Soli Deo Gloria.

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