MANUAL OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
Louis Berkhof, 1933
III. The Doctrine of Man in Relation to God
A. Man in His ORIGINAL State
The Constitutional Nature of Man
Man as the Image of God and in the Covenant of Works
B. Man in the State of SIN
The Origin and Essential Character of Sin
Sin in the Life of the Human Race
C. Man in the Covenant of GRACE
The Covenant of Redemption
The Covenant of Grace
A. Man in His ORIGINAL State
The Constitutional Nature of Man
From the discussion of the doctrine of God we pass on to that of man, the crown of God's handiwork. The study of man in theology should not be confused with the science of anthropology, though it bears the same name. It does not make man as such, but very particularly man in relation to God the object of its consideration and discussion. Under the present heading the essential constituents of human nature, and the origin of the soul in the individuals of the race will be considered.
A. The Essential Elements of Human Nature.
There are especially two views respecting the number of elements that go to make up the essential nature of man.
1. Dichotomy or the View That Man Consists of Two Parts, Body and Soul.
The usual view of the constitution of man is that he consists of two, and only two, distinct parts, namely, body and soul or spirit. This is in harmony with the self-consciousness of man, which clearly testifies to the fact that man consists of a material and a spiritual element. It is also borne out by the study of Scripture, which speaks of man as consisting of "body and soul," Matthew 6:25; 10:28, or of "body and spirit," Ecclesiastes 12:7; 1 Corinthians 5:3, 5. The two words, "soul" and "spirit" do not denote two different elements in man, but serve to designate the one spiritual substance of man. This is proved by the following consideration:
(a) There are several passages which clearly proceed on the assumption that man consists of only two parts, Romans 8:10; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 7:34; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 2:3; Colossians 2:5.
(b) Death is sometimes described as the giving up of the soul, Genesis 35:18; 1 Kings 17:21; Acts 15:26; and in other cases as the giving up of the spirit, Psalm 31:5; Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59.
(c) The immaterial element of the dead is in some instances termed "soul," Rev. 9:6; 20:4, and in others "spirit," 1 Peter 3:19; Hebrews 12:23. These two terms merely serve to designate the spiritual element of man from two different points of view. The word "spirit" contemplates it as the principle of life and action which controls the body; while the word "soul" refers to it as the personal subject in man, which thinks and feels and wills, and in some cases particularly as the seat of affections, Genesis 2:7; Psalm 62:1; 63:1; Psalm 103:1, 2.
2. Trichotomy, or the View That Man Consists of Three Parts, Body, Soul, and Spirit. Alongside of the usual view another one arose, which conceives of man as consisting of three parts, body, soul, and spirit. This conception of man did not result from the study of Scripture, but was born of the study of Greek philosophy. It was adopted by several German and English theologians. These do not agree, however, as to the nature of the soul, nor as to the relation in which it stands to the other parts of human nature. Some regard the soul as the principle of the animal life in man, and the spirit as the principle of the higher rational and moral life. Others consider the soul to be a sort of intermediate element, which furnishes the point of contact between the body and the spirit. Biblical support for this view was sought particularly in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12, but these do not prove the point. It is true that Paul speaks in the first passage of "spirit and soul and body," but this does not necessarily mean that he regards these as three distinct elements in man rather than as three different aspects of man. When Jesus summarizes the first table of the law by saying, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind," in Matthew 22:37, He does not have in mind three distinct substances. Such expressions simply serve to emphasize the fact that the whole man is intended. Moreover, Hebrews 4:12 should not be taken to mean that the Word of God, penetrating to the inner man, makes separation between his soul and his spirit, which would naturally imply that these two are different substances; but simply that it brings about a separation in both of these aspects of man between the thoughts and intents of the heart.
B. The Origin of the Soul in Each Individual.
There are three theories respecting the origin of the soul in each individual.
1. Pre-existentianism. Some speculative theologians advocated the theory that the souls of men existed in a previous state, and that certain occurrences in that former state account for the condition in which those souls are now found. It was thought to afford the most natural explanation of the fact that all men are born as sinners. This theory meets with little favor at present.
2. Traducianism. According to Traducianism the souls of men are propagated along with the bodies by generation, and are therefore transmitted to the children by the parents. Scripture support for it is found in the fact that God ceased from the work of creation after He had made man, Genesis 2:2; that the Bible says nothing about the creation of Eve's soul, Genesis 2:23; 1 Corinthians 11:8; and that descendants are said to be in the loins of their fathers, Genesis 46:26; Hebrews 7:9, 10. Furthermore, it would seem to be favored
(a) by the analogy of the animal world, where both body and soul are passed on from the old to the young;
(b) by the inheritance of mental peculiarities and family traits which inhere in the soul rather than in the body; and
(c) by the inheritance of moral depravity or sin, which is a matter of the soul rather than of the body.
This theory is burdened with certain difficulties, however, of which the following are the most important:
(a) It either makes the parents in some sense creators of the soul of the child, or proceeds on the assumption that the soul of the parents can split itself up into several souls, which is contrary to the doctrine that the soul does not admit of division.
(b) It proceeds on the assumption that God works only in a mediate manner after He has finished the creation of the world. But this is an unproved assumption. God often works immediately in the performance of miracles and in some parts of the work of redemption.
(c) It makes it very difficult to guard the sinlessness of Jesus, if He derived both His body and soul from the sinful Mary.
3. Creationism. The creationist view is to the effect that each individual soul is an immediate creation of God, which owes its origin to a direct creative act, of which the time cannot be precisely determined. The soul is supposed to be created pure, but to become sinful even before birth by entering into that complex of sin by which humanity as a whole is burdened. This theory is more in harmony with Scripture than the preceding one, since the Bible throughout represents body and soul as having different origins, Ecclesiastes 12:7; Isaiah 42:5; Zechariah 12:1; Hebrews 12:9; cf. Numbers 16:22. Moreover, it is far more in harmony with the nature of the human soul than traducianism, since it safeguards the spiritual and therefore indivisible nature of the soul. And, finally, it also avoids the pitfalls in connection with the doctrine of Christ, since it enables us to guard the sinlessness of Jesus. This does not mean, however, that it is free from all difficulties. It makes it rather hard to account for the re-appearance of the mental and moral traits of the parents in the children. In addition to that it ascribes to the beast nobler powers of propagation than to man, for the beast multiplies itself after its kind. And, finally, it is in danger of making God at least indirectly responsible for sin, since He puts a pure soul into a complex which will inevitably corrupt it. In spite of these difficulties, however, it deserves the preference.
Questions for Review:
What is the dichotomic view of the essential elements of human nature?
How can this view be proved from Scripture?
What is the trichotomic view?
What Scriptural proof is advanced for it?
What objections are there to this view?
What theories are there as to the origin of the soul in the individual?
What does Pre-existentianism teach?
What is the traducianist view?
What arguments can be advanced in favor of it?
What objections are there to it? What is the theory of creationism?
What considerations favor this view?
What objections are there to it?
Man as the Image of God, and in the Covenant of Works
In the discussion of the moral and spiritual condition of man, it is of the utmost importance to consider first of all his original state. The two subjects that call for special consideration here are man as the image of God, and man in the covenant of works.
A. Man as the Image of God.
1. The Scriptural Teaching Respecting Man as the Image-bearer of God.
The Bible represents man as the crown of God's handiwork, whose special glory consists in this that he is created in the image of God and after His likeness, Genesis 1:26, 27. Attempts have been made to distinguish sharply between the terms "image" and "likeness." Some were of the opinion that the former referred to the body, and the latter to the soul. Augustine held that they had reference respectively to the intellectual and to the moral qualities of the soul. And Roman Catholics regard "image" as an indication of the natural gifts bestowed on man, and "likeness" as a designation of the gifts with which he was supernaturally endowed, that is, his original righteousness. In all probability however, the words are used as synonyms and both refer to the same thing, though from a slightly different point of view. The following passages clearly show that they are used interchangeably, Genesis 1:26, 27; 5:1; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Colossians 3:10; Jas. 3:9. The words "after our likeness" in Genesis 1:26 apparently serve to stress the fact that the image is most like or very similar. The doctrine of man's creation in the image of God is of the greatest importance, for the image is that which is most distinctive in man, that which distinguishes him from the animals and from every other creature. As far as we know even the angels do not share that honor with him. They certainly are not the image-bearers of God in the sense and to the extent that man is.
2. Historical Conceptions of the Image of God in Man.
There are especially three important historic conceptions of the image of God in man.
a. The ROMAN CATHOLIC View. Roman Catholics believe that God at creation endowed man with certain natural gifts, such as the spirituality of the soul, the freedom of the will, and the immortality of the body. These natural endowments constitute the image of God. In this purely natural condition of man, however, there was a tendency of the lower appetites and passions to rebel against the higher powers of reason and conscience. This tendency was not in itself sin, but would naturally become sin as soon as the will yielded to it and it passed into voluntary action. In order to enable man to hold his lower nature in check, however, God endowed man with a supernatural gift, called original righteousness. And this is supposed to constitute man's likeness to God.
b. The LUTHERAN View. The Lutherans are not all agreed as to what constitutes the image of God. The prevailing opinion, however, is that it consists only in those spiritual qualities with which man was endowed at creation, and which are generally called original righteousness. These qualities consist in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. In taking this view of the matter, they do not sufficiently recognize the essential nature of man, as distinct from that of the animals on the one hand, and that of the angels on the other hand. If the image of God, consisting in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, constitutes the very essence of man, the question arises, how can man lose this image, as he did by sin, and still remain man. And, again, if the image of God so understood determines the essential nature of man, what essential difference is there between men and the angels, who also possess these spiritual qualities?
c. The REFORMED View. The Reformed have a far more comprehensive view of the image of God than either the Roman Catholics or the Lutherans. They usually distinguish between the image of God in a restricted, and the image of God in a more comprehensive sense. The former consists in the spiritual qualities with which man was created, namely, true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. That these belong to the image of God, follows from Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10. The image of God in the more comprehensive sense of the word is found in the fact that man is a spiritual being, rational, moral, and immortal, in the body, not as a material substance, but as the organ of the soul, and in his dominion over the lower creation. Notice that Scripture links up this dominion immediately with man's creation in the image of God, Genesis 1:26. It is only in virtue of the image of God in this broader sense that man, even after he has lost the image of God in the restricted sense, consisting in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, can still be called the image-bearer of God, Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; 15:49; Jas. 3:9.
B. Man in the Covenant of Works.
The natural relationship between God and man was supplemented by a covenant relationship, in which God made the future perfection and bliss contingent on the temporary obedience of man. This covenant is known as the covenant of works.
1. Scripture Proof for the Covenant of Works. In view of the fact that some deny the existence of the covenant of works, it is highly desirable to examine its Scriptural basis. The Scripture proof for it is found in the following:
a. All the elements of a covenant are indicated in Scripture; and if the elements are present, we have not only the right but also the duty to combine them and to give the doctrine so construed an appropriate name. There are clearly two parties, God and man, entering into an agreement; there is a condition, the condition of obedience, which God imposes on man, Genesis 2:16, 17; and there is also a promise, the promise of eternal life. This is implied in the alternative of death as the result of disobedience, in such passages as Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12, and in the symbolical significance of the tree of life, Genesis 3:22.
b. The parallel which Paul draws between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:1221, in connection with the imputation of sin on the one hand and the imputation of righteousness on the other hand, can only be explained on the assumption that Adam, like Christ, was the head of a covenant. If we share in the righteousness of Christ, because He is our representative, then it follows that we share in the guilt of Adam for the same reason.
c. There is one passage in Scripture which speaks of Adam as having transgressed the covenant. In Hosea 6:7 we read: "But they like Adam have transgressed the covenant." (Am. Rev.) This rendering of the text corresponds with that in the Dutch Bible. The Authorized Version, however, renders: "But they like men have transgressed the covenant." The other rendering is clearly to be preferred, and is also favored by the parallel passage in Job 31:33.
2. The Elements of the Covenant of Works.
The following elements must be distinguished.
a. The Covenanting Parties. A covenant is always a compact between two parties. In the case of the covenant of works there was, on the one hand, the triune God, the sovereign Lord of all creation, binding Himself by an act of condescending grace to give to man, on the condition of obedience, the blessings of eternal life and perfect happiness. And, on the other hand, there was Adam, the representative of the human race, absolutely dependent and without any claim on God, graciously permitted to covenant with God for himself and his posterity, and assuming the responsibility of obeying God implicitly.
b. The Promise of the Covenant. The great promise of the covenant was the promise of life in the fullest sense of the word, that is, not merely a continuance of the natural existence of man, but life raised to the highest development of perennial bliss and glory. Adam was indeed created in a state of positive holiness, and was not subject to the law of death. But he did not yet possess the highest privileges in store for man; he was not yet raised above the possibility of erring, sinning, and dying. He did not yet possess the highest degree of holiness, nor enjoy life in all its fullness.
c. The Condition of the Covenant. The promise in the covenant of works was not unconditional. The condition was that of perfect, unconditional obedience. The divine law can demand no less than perfect obedience, and the positive command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was clearly a test of pure obedience. In it the demands of the law of God converged, so to speak, in a single point. The great question had to be settled, whether man would obey God implicitly, or follow the guidance of his own insight.
d. The Penalty of the Covenant. The penalty that was threatened in case of transgression was death in the most inclusive sense of the word, physical, spiritual, and eternal. The fundamental idea of death is not that of extinction of being, but that of separation from the source of life, and the resulting dissolution of misery and woe. It consists in the separation of body and soul; but also, and this is even more fundamental, in the separation of the soul from God.
e. The Sacrament (s) of the Covenant. Opinions vary a great deal respecting the sacrament(s) of the covenant of works. Though some speak of two, three, or even four sacraments, the most prevalent opinion is that the tree of life was the only sacrament. This would seem to be the only one that finds any warrant in Scripture. In all probability the tree of life was an appointed symbol and pledge or seal of life. The words in Genesis 3:22 should then be understood sacramentally.
3. The Present Validity of the Covenant of Works.
The Arminians of the seventeenth century maintained the position that the covenant of works was wholly abrogated by the fall of Adam, so that his descendants are entirely free from its obligations. In opposition to them the Reformed took the position that it is partly a thing of the past, and partly still in force.
a. The Sense in Which it is NOT Abrogated. The demand for perfect obedience still holds. The curse and punishment pronounced on the transgressor still apply to all those who continue in sin. And the conditional promise is also still in effect. God might have withdrawn it, but did not, cf. Leviticus 18:5; Galatians 3:12. It is evident, however, that after the fall no one can comply with the condition.
b. The Sense in Which it IS Abrogated. The special obligations of this covenant have ceased for those who really live in the covenant of grace. This does not mean that these obligations are simply set aside and disregarded, but that they were met by the Mediator for all His people. Moreover, the covenant of works is abrogated as an appointed way or means to obtain eternal life, for as such it is powerless after the fall of man.
Questions for Review:
Why is the doctrine of the image of God in man important?
Do the words "image" and "likeness" denote different things?
What is the Roman Catholic view of the image and likeness of God in man?
What the Lutheran view of the image of God in man?
What objection is there to this view?
What distinction do the Reformed apply to the image of God in man?
What constitutes the image of God in the restricted sense?
In the more comprehensive sense?
What Bible proof have we for the covenant of works?
Which are the parties of the covenant?
What is the promise, the condition, the penalty, and the sacrament of the covenant?
In what sense does the covenant still hold?
In what sense is it abrogated?
B. Man in the State of SIN
The Origin of Sin in the Fall of Man.
The problem of the origin of sin is one that necessarily forces itself upon the attention of thoughtful men, and still continues to baffle those who are not satisfied with the Biblical account of it. Some earlier and later theologians simply pushed the problem back a step by saying that the souls of men sinned in some previous existence, and that consequently all men are now born as sinners. The great philosopher, Immanuel Kant, recognized the existence of radical evil in man, but despaired of explaining its origin. Evolutionists find its explanation in the tendencies, impulses, and passions inherited from the brute. The Bible, however, directs our attention to the fall of man. It teaches us that the root of all moral evil in the world lies in the first sin of Adam, the natural and representative head of the human race.
1. The NATURE of the First Sin.
The first sin consisted in man's eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This eating was sinful simply because God had forbidden it. We do not know what kind of tree this was. It was called "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," because it was destined to reveal (a) whether man's future state would be good or evil; and (b) whether man would allow God to determine for him what was good and evil, or would undertake to determine this for himself. The first sin was of a typical character, clearly revealing the essential nature of sin. This lies in the fact that man refused to subject himself to the will of God and to have God determine the course of his life, and decided to settle this for himself. Different elements can be distinguished in this first sin. In the intellect it revealed itself as unbelief and pride, in the will as the desire to be like God, and in the affections as an unholy satisfaction in eating of the forbidden fruit.
2. The OCCASION of the First Sin.
The fall of man was occasioned by the temptation of the serpent, who sowed in man's mind the seeds of distrust and unbelief. Though it was undoubtedly the intention of the tempter to cause Adam, the head of the covenant, to fall, yet he addressed himself to Eve, probably because she
(a) was not the covenant head and therefore would not have the same sense of responsibility;
(b) had not received the command of God directly but only indirectly, and would consequently be more susceptible to argumentation and doubt; and
(c) would undoubtedly prove to be the most effective agent in reaching the heart of Adam. The speaking serpent has been a great stumbling-block for many and often led to a figurative or symbolical interpretation of the narrative of the fall. Scripture clearly intimates, however, that the serpent was but the instrument of Satan, and that Satan was the real tempter, who was working in and through the serpent, just as in the days of Jesus' ministry he worked in men and swine, John 8:44; Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Rev. 12:9.
3. The RESULTS of the First Sin.
In consequence of the first sin man lost the image of God in the restricted sense of the word, true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness; and, moreover, became totally depraved, that is, depraved in every part of his being and utterly incapable of doing any spiritual good. This change in the actual condition of man also reflected itself in his consciousness. There was a sense of pollution, revealing itself in a feeling of shame, and a sense of guilt, which found expression in an accusing conscience and in fear of God. In addition to that man became subject to the law of death in the fullest sense of the word, Genesis 3:19; Romans 5:12; 6:23, though the full execution of the sentence was stayed. Finally, man was driven from paradise and barred from the tree of life, which symbolized the life that was promised in the covenant of works.
A. The Essential Character of Sin.
There are many erroneous conceptions of the real character of sin. It is only from Scripture that we can learn just what sin is. In connection with the Scriptural idea of sin several points should be emphasized.
1. Sin Is a Specific Kind of Evil.
In the present day many people show a tendency to substitute the word "evil" for "sin." But this is a poor substitute. While it is perfectly true that all sin is evil, it cannot be said with equal truth that all evil is sin. Sickness may be regarded as an evil, but can hardly be called a sin. Moreover, the modern tendency to speak of evil rather than of sin finds its explanation largely in the fact that people prefer to regard sin simply as a disease or as an imperfection, for which man can hardly be held responsible. The Bible teaches us to regard sin as a specific kind of evil, as a moral evil for which man is directly responsible and which brings him under a sentence of condemnation.
2. Sin Has an Absolute Character.
In the ethical sphere the contrast between good and evil is absolute. There is no neutral condition between the two. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. He who does not love God from the heart, is thereby already characterized as evil. The Bible knows of no position of moral neutrality. It urges the wicked to turn to righteousness, and frequently speaks of the righteous as falling into evil; but it does not contain a single indication that either the one or the other ever lands in a neutral position. Man is either on the right or on the wrong side, Matthew 10:32, 33; 12:30; Luke 11:23; Jas. 2:10.
3. Sin Always Has Relation to God and His Will.
Modern theology insists on interpreting sin in a social way, that is, with reference to one's fellow-men. Sin is wrong done to one's fellow-beings. But this misses the point entirely, for such a wrong can be called sin only in view of the fact that it is contrary to the will of God. Sin is correctly defined as "lack of conformity to the law of God," and this means that it is the opposite of that love to God which is required by the divine law. It is quite evident that Scripture always contemplates sin in relation to God, and the law, either as written on the tablets of man's heart or as given by Moses, Romans 1:32; 2:1214; 4:15; 5:13; Jas. 2:9, 10; 1 John 3:4.
4. Sin Includes Both Guilt and Pollution.
Sin is first of all guilt, that is, it is a transgression of the law, which makes men liable to the punishment of a righteous God. Many indeed deny that sin includes guilt, but this denial goes contrary to the fact that the sinner is threatened and actually visited with punishment, and to the plain statements of Scripture, such as Matthew 6:12; Romans 3:19; 5:18; Ephesians 2:3. Sin is also pollution, an inherent corruption to which every sinner is subject. Guilt always carries pollution with it. Everyone who is guilty in Adam is, as a result, also born with a corrupt nature. The pollution of sin is clearly taught in such passages as Job 14:4; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 7:1520; Romans 8:58; Ephesians 4:1719.
5. Sin Has its Seat in the Heart.
Sin does not reside in any one faculty of the soul, but in the heart, which in the psychology of Scripture is the central organ of the soul, out of which are the issues of life, Proverbs 4:23. And from this center its influence and operations spread to the intellect, the will, the affections, in short, to the whole man, including his body. This view is clearly based on the representations of Scripture in such passages as the following: Proverbs 4:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19, 20; Luke 6:45; Hebrews 3:12.
6. Sin Does Not Consist in Outward Acts Only.
Over against Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians of every description the fact should be emphasized that sin consists not only in outward acts, but also in sinful habits and in a sinful condition of the heart. These three are related to one another as follows: the sinful state is the basis of the sinful habits, and these, in turn, lead on to the sinful deeds. That the evil thoughts, affections, and intents of the heart should also be regarded as sinful follows from such passages as the following: Matthew 5:22, 28; Rom 7:7; Galatians 5:17, 24.
B. Divergent Views of Sin.
There are several views of sin which are not at all in harmony with the Scriptural representation of it. Just a few of these can be briefly indicated here.
1. The PELAGIAN View of Sin.
The Pelagian does not believe in original sin, and therefore does not share the conviction that every man is born as a sinner. Adam was created, and every one of his descendants is born, in a state of moral neutrality, neither positively good nor positively bad. Sin is the result of the free choice of every man. No one need sin, if he does not want to. There is no such thing as a sinful nature or a sinful character; neither are there sinful dispositions. Sin consists only in a deliberate choice of evil by a will which is perfectly free, and can just as well choose and follow the good.
2. The ROMAN CATHOLIC View of Sin.
According to the Roman Catholics original sin is primarily a negative condition, consisting in the absence of that original righteousness with which man was super-naturally endowed. It is a state of aversion to God, and therefore a state of sin. Actual sin consists only in those actions of man which are the result of a deliberate choice of the will. The unholy disposition, desires, and affections that lie back of these deeds may be of a sinful nature and tend to produce sin, but cannot themselves be considered as sin in the strictest sense of the word.
3. The EVOLUTIONARY View of Sin.
In modern liberal theology the evolutionary view of sin is very popular, though it is not always presented in exactly the same way. It was developed particularly in the works of Tennant. According to him there are many impulses and qualities which man has inherited from the brute. These are not in themselves sin, but naturally become sin under certain conditions. There is a gradually awakening moral sense in man, which condemns those impulses and qualities. And these actually become sin, if man continues to yield to them in spite of the condemning voice of conscience. Sin consists in this, therefore, that man, as a moral being, still allows himself to be controlled by the appetites and passions of his sensual nature rather than by the aspirations of his higher nature.
Questions for Review:
What is the Biblical view of the origin of sin?
Can you name any other views?
What was the first sin?
Why was the tree concerned called "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil"?
What elements can be distinguished in the first sin?
Why did the tempter approach Eve?
Can you prove that Satan was the real tempter?
Which were the results of the first sin?
Why is it undesirable to substitute the word "evil" for "sin"?
Is it possible for man to occupy a neutral position, neither good nor bad?
Is it correct to interpret sin with reference to man?
How can we prove that sin includes guilt?
Where does sin have its seat in man?
How can we prove that sin does not consist exclusively in outward acts?
What is the Pelagian, the Roman Catholic, and the evolutionary view of sin?
Sin in the Life of the Human Race
A. The Connection Between Adam's Sin and that of His Descendants.
The Pelagians deny that there is any necessary connection between the sin of Adam and that of his descendants. The earlier Arminians maintain that man has inherited his natural corruption from Adam, but is in no sense responsible for the sin of the latter, while the later or Wesleyan Arminians admit that man's inborn corruption also involves guilt. There are especially three different ways of explaining the connection between the sin of Adam and that of his descendants.
1. The Realistic Theory.
The earliest of the three is the realistic theory, which is to the effect that God originally created one general human nature, which in course of time is divided into as many parts as there are human individuals. Adam possessed the whole of this general human nature; and as the result of his sin it became guilty and polluted. Consequently every individual part of it also shares in this guilt and pollution. This theory does not explain why we are responsible only for the first sin of Adam, and not for the rest of his sins, committed by the same human nature, nor for the sins of the rest of our forefathers. Neither does it give an answer to the question, why Christ was not held responsible for the sin of Adam, for He certainly shared the very nature that sinned in Adam.
2. The Theory of Immediate Imputation (Covenant of Works).
According to this view Adam stood in a twofold relation to his descendants. He was the natural head of the human race, the progenitor of all the children of men. To this natural relationship God added the covenant relationship, in virtue of which Adam was also the representative head of all his descendants. When he sinned in this representative capacity, the guilt of his sin was naturally imputed to all those whom he represented; and as the result of this they are all born in a corrupt state. This theory explains why the descendants of Adam are responsible only for the one sin which he committed as head of the covenant, why they are not responsible for the sins of their forbears, and why Christ, who is not a human person, does not share in the guilt of Adam.
3. The Theory of Mediate Imputation.
The last theory proceeds on the assumption that the guilt of Adam's sin is not directly imputed to his descendants, and advocates the following idea: Adam's descendants derive their innate corruption from him by the process of natural generation; and on the basis of that inherent depravity which they share with him they are also considered guilty of his apostasy. They are not born corrupt because they are guilty in Adam, but they are considered guilty because they are born corrupt. If this theory were consistent, it ought to teach the mediate imputation of the sins of all previous generations to those following, for their joint corruption is passed on by generation. Moreover, by holding that our moral corruption is imputed to us as sin, it clearly implies that this corruption would not be guilt, if it were not so imputed; but there is no moral corruption that is not at the same time guilt and that does not make one liable to punishment.
B. Original and Actual Sin.
In a general way sin is divided into original and actual sin.
1. ORIGINAL Sin. In virtue of their connection with Adam all men are, after the fall, born in a sinful state and condition. This state is called original sin and is the inward root of all the actual sins that defile the life of man. It contains two elements:
a. Original GUILT. This means that the guilt of Adam's sin is imputed to us. Since he sinned as our representative, we are guilty in him. This means that the state in which we are born is one of willful violation of the law, and that we are therefore by nature liable to punishment. The Arminians of the seventeenth century and the advocates of modern liberal theology both deny that original sin involves original guilt. Yet this is certainly the case according to the plain teachings of Scripture, Romans 5:1219; Ephesians 2:3.
b. Original POLLUTION. The descendants of Adam are not only burdened with his guilt, but also inherit from him their moral pollution. They are not only deprived of original righteousness, but also have an inherent positive disposition toward sin. This pollution may be considered from two different points of view:
1) As TOTAL DEPRAVITY. This does not mean that every man is as bad as he can be, cannot do good in any sense of the word, and has absolutely no sense of admiration for the true, the good, and the beautiful; but simply that the inherent corruption extends to every part of man's nature, and that there is in him no spiritual good, that is good in relation to God, at all, but only moral perversion. The total depravity of man is denied by Pelagians, Socinians, and the earlier Arminians, but is clearly taught by Scripture, John 5:42; Romans 7:18, 23; 8:7; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 4:18; 2 Timothy 3:24; Titus 1:15; Hebrews 3:12.
2) As TOTAL INABILITY. Here, again, it is necessary to distinguish. Reformed theologians generally maintain that the sinner is still able to perform
(a) natural good;
(b) civil good or civil righteousness; and
(c) externally religious good. He may perform acts and manifest sentiments that deserve the sincere approval and gratitude of their fellow-men, and that even meet in a measure with the approval of God. Yet when these works are considered in relation to God, they are radically defective, since they are not prompted by love to God, nor by any regard for the will of God as requiring them. Moreover, man cannot change his fundamental preference for sin to love for God, nor even make an approach to such a change. There is abundant Scriptural support for this doctrine, John 1:13; 3:5; 6:44; 8:34; 15:4, 5; Romans 7:18, 24; 8:7, 8; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 2:1, 810; Hebrews 11:6.
2. ACTUAL Sin.
a. The Difference Between Actual and Original Sin. The term "actual sin" denotes not only sins consisting in outward acts, but also all those conscious thoughts and volitions which proceed from original sin. They are the sins which an individual performs, in distinction from his inherited nature and inclination. While original sin is one, actual sins are manifold. They may be sins of the inner life, such as pride, envy, hatred, sensual lusts and evil desires; or sins of the outer life, such as deceit, theft, murder, adultery, and so on. While the existence of original sin has met and is still meeting with widespread denial, the presence of actual sin, at least in some sense of the word, is generally admitted. At the present time, however, many deny that it constitutes guilt, and thus close their eyes to the real sinfulness of sin.
b. The Unpardonable Sin. There are passages of Scripture which speak of a sin that cannot be forgiven, after which a change of heart is impossible, and for which it is not necessary to pray, Matthew 12:31, 32; Mark 3:2830; Luke 12:10; Hebrews 4:46; 10:26, 27; 1 John 5:16. It is generally known as the sin or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This sin consists in the conscious, malicious, and willful rejection and slandering, against evidence and conviction, of the testimony of the Holy Spirit respecting the grace of God in Jesus Christ, attributing it out of hatred and enmity to the prince of darkness. It presupposes in those who commit it a rather profound knowledge of the truth, an inner illumination of the Holy Spirit, and an intellectual conviction of the truth so strong and powerful as to make an honest denial of it impossible. The sin itself then consists not simply in doubting the truth or in a simple denial of it, but in a contradiction of it that goes contrary to the conviction of the mind and to the illumination of the conscience. It is unpardonable, not because its guilt transcends the merits of Christ, or because the sinner is beyond the renewing power of the Holy Spirit; but because it is a sin that excludes all repentance, sears the conscience, and hardens the sinner. In those who have committed this sin we may therefore expect to find a pronounced hatred of God, a defiant attitude to Him and to all that is divine, delight in ridiculing and slandering that which is holy, and absolute unconcern respecting the welfare of their soul and the future life. In view of the fact that this sin is not followed by repentance, we may be reasonably sure that they who fear that they have committed it, who worry about it, and who desire the prayers of others for them, have not committed it.
C. The Universality of Sin.
Scripture and experience both teach us that sin is universal. Even Pelagians do not deny this, though they ascribe it to external conditions, such as a bad environment, evil examples, and a wrong kind of education. According to Scripture, however, the explanation for it lies in the fall of Adam and in the imputation of his sin to all his descendants. It may be proved in various ways:
1. The universality of sin is asserted in several direct statements of Scripture. The following are some of the most important passages that come into consideration here: 1 Kings 8:46; Psalm 143:2; Proverbs 20:9; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:112, 19, 20, 23; Galatians 3:22; Jas. 3:2; 1 John 1:8, 10.
2. Several passages of Scripture teach that sin is the heritage of man from the time of his birth, and is therefore present in human nature so early that it cannot possibly be considered as the result of imitation, Psalm 51:5; Job 14:4; John 3:6.
3. Death as the penalty of sin is visited even upon those who have never exercised a personal and conscious choice, Romans 5:1214. This passage implies that sin exists, in the case of infants, prior to moral consciousness. Since infants die, and therefore the effect of sin is present in their case, it is but natural to assume that the cause is also present.
4. According to Scripture all men are under condemnation and therefore need the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Children are never made an exception to this rule. This follows from the passages quoted under (1), and also from John 3:3, 5; Ephesians 2:3; 1 John 5:12. They all need the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit unto salvation.
Questions for Review:
What different opinions are there respecting the connection between Adam's sin and that of his descendants?
What is the realistic theory, and why is it objectionable?
How does the doctrine of the covenant of works conceive of the connection between the sin of Adam and our sinful condition?
What advantages has this view?
What solution of the problem is suggested by the theory of mediate imputation?
What objections are there to this solution?
What is original sin?
What two elements does it include?
How should we conceive of man's total depravity?
How must his total inability be understood?
What is included in actual sin?
How does actual sin differ from original sin?
What is the nature of the unpardonable sin?
Can there be any reasonable doubt as to the universality of sin?
What explanation do some offer for this?
How does the Bible account for it?
C. Man in the Covenant of GRACE
The Covenant of REDEMPTION
In the covenant of redemption we have an agreement between the Father, as the representative of the Trinity, and the Son, as the representative of His people, in which the latter undertakes to meet the obligations of those whom the Father has given Him, and the former promises the Son all that is necessary for His redemptive work. This eternal covenant is the firm foundation of the covenant of grace. If there had been no eternal counsel of peace between the Father and the Son, there could have been no agreement between God and the sinner. The covenant of redemption makes the covenant of grace possible.
A. The Scriptural Basis for the Covenant of Redemption.
The covenant of redemption is frequently called the counsel of peace, a name that is derived from Zechariah 6:13. The doctrine of this eternal counsel rests on the following Scriptural basis:
1. Scripture clearly points to the fact that the plan of redemption was included in the eternal decree or counsel of God, Ephesians 1:4 ff.; 3:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:9; Jas. 2:5; 1 Peter 1:2, and other passages.
2. There are passages which point to the fact that the plan of God for the salvation of sinners was of the nature of a covenant. Christ speaks of promises made to Him before His advent, and repeatedly refers to a commission which He received from the Father, John 5:30, 43; 6:3840; 17:412. Moreover, in Romans 5:1221 and in 1 Corinthians 15:22 He is clearly represented as a covenant head. The parallel between Adam and Christ leaves no doubt on this point.
3. The elements of a covenant are clearly indicated, such as contracting parties, a promise, and a condition. In Psalm 2:79 the parties are mentioned and a promise is indicated (comp. Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). In another Messianic passage, Psalm 40:79 (comp. Hebrews 10:57) the Messiah expresses His readiness to do the Father's will in becoming a sacrifice for sin. Christ repeatedly speaks of a task which the Father has entrusted to Him, John 6:38, 39; 10:18; 17:4. Moreover, John 17:5, 6, 9, 24 (cf. also Philippians 2:911) refer to a reward which He receives from the Father.
4. There are two passages in the Old Testament, which connect the idea of the covenant immediately with the Messiah, namely, Psalm 89:3 and Isaiah 42:6, which refers to the Servant of the Lord. The connection clearly shows that this servant is not merely Israel. Moreover, there are also passages in which the Messiah speaks of God as his God, which is covenant language, Psalm 22:1, 2; Psalm 40:8.
B. The Son in the Covenant of Redemption.
There are a few things that should be stressed in connection with the place and work of Christ in the covenant of redemption.
1. The Official Position of Christ in the Covenant.
Christ is both surety and head of the covenant of redemption. He is called "surety" in Hebrews 7:22. A surety is a person who takes upon himself the legal obligations of another. Christ stepped into the place of the sinner and undertook to atone for sin by bearing the necessary punishment, and to meet the demands of the law for all His people. By taking the place of delinquent man He became the second or last Adam, and in that capacity is the head of the covenant, the representative of all those whom the Father has given Him.
2. The Covenant Was for Christ a Covenant of Works.
The covenant of redemption is indeed the eternal basis of the covenant of grace, and for sinners also its original pattern. But for Christ it is a covenant of works rather than a covenant of grace. For Him the law of the original covenant, the covenant of works applies, namely, that eternal life can only be obtained by meeting the demands of the law. As the last Adam, Christ obtains eternal life as a reward for faithful obedience, and not at all as an unmerited gift of grace.
3. Christ's Work in the Covenant Is Limited by Election.
The covenant of redemption has sometimes been confused with the decree of election, but the two are not identical. The decree of election determines the number of those who are destined to be heirs of eternal glory in Christ, while the covenant of redemption represents the way in which grace and glory are prepared for sinners. Logically, election precedes the counsel of redemption, because the surety of Christ in the covenant is particular and not universal. Christ undertakes to save only those who are given Him by the Father.
4. The Covenant of Redemption and the Use of the Sacraments by Christ.
Christ used the sacraments of both the Old and the New Testament. Clearly they could not mean for Him what they mean for believers; they could not be symbols nor seals of saving grace; neither could they be instrumental in strengthening saving faith. In all probability they were for Him signs and seals of the covenant of redemption. He used them in an official capacity, as the representative of His people. He was burdened with the guilt of His people, and the sacraments could signify and seal for Him the removal of this burden and the fulfillment of the promises of the Father. And in so far as He in the capacity of Mediator was called upon to exercise faith (not saving faith), they could also serve to strengthen this faith as far as His human nature was concerned.
C. REQUIREMENTS and PROMISES in the Covenant of Redemption.
1. REQUIREMENTS. The Father required of the Son as the surety and head of His people:
a. That He should assume human nature by being born of a woman, and should assume this nature with its present infirmities, though without sin, Galatians 4:4, 5; Hebrews 2:10, 11, 14, 15; 4:15.
b. That He should place Himself under the law, in order to pay the penalty for sin and to merit everlasting life for the elect, Psalm 40:8; Matthew 5:17, 18; John 8:29; 9:4, 5.
c. That He should apply His merits to His people by regenerating them, leading them to conversion, endowing them with faith, and sanctifying them, through the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit, thus securing the consecration of their lives to God, John 16:1315; 17:1922.
2. PROMISES. The main promises of the Father, which correspond to the demands of the Son, were:
a. That He would prepare for Him a body uncontaminated by sin, Hebrews 10:5, and would anoint Him by giving Him the Spirit without measure, thus qualifying Him for His Messianic offices, Isaiah 42:1, 2; 61:1; John 3:34.
b. That He would support Him in the performance of His work, and thus enable Him to accomplish the destruction of Satan and the establishment of the kingdom of God, Isaiah 42:6, 7; Luke 22:43.
c. That He would deliver Him from the power of death, and exalt Him to His own right hand in Heaven, committing to Him all power in Heaven and on earth, Psalm 16:811; Acts 2:2528; Philippians 2:911.
d. That He would enable Him, as a reward for His accomplished atonement, to send out the Holy Spirit for the formation of His spiritual body by regeneration and sanctification, and for the instruction, guidance, and protection of the Church, John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13, 14.
e. That through the operation of the Holy Spirit all those given unto the Son would really come unto Him, so that none of them would be lost, John 6:37, 39, 40, 44, 45.
f. That a multitude which no man can number would thus be made partakers of redemption, so that ultimately the kingdom of the Messiah would embrace all the nations of the earth, Psalm 22:27; 72:17.
g. That in and through this wondrous work of redemption the glory of the divine perfections would become manifest to men and angels, and God would receive all the honor, Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14.
Questions for Review:
What is the covenant of redemption?
How is the covenant of redemption related to the covenant of grace?
By what other name is it known?
What Scriptural evidence is there for the covenant of redemption?
What is the official position of Christ in this covenant?
Is it for Christ a covenant of works or a covenant of grace?
Whom does Christ represent in this covenant?
What was the significance of the use of the sacraments by Christ?
What did the Father require of Christ in the covenant of redemption?
What did He promise the Son?
Man in the Covenant of GRACE
On the basis of the covenant of redemption God established the covenant of grace, a covenant of friendship with man, which represents the way in which the blessings of redemption are mediated to the sinner. Under the present heading several particulars call for consideration.
A. The Contracting Parties in the Covenant of Grace.
God is the first party in the covenant of grace, the party that takes the initiative and graciously determines the relation in which the second party will stand to Him. He appears in the covenant as a gracious and forgiving Father, willing to pardon sin and to restore sinners to His blessed communion. It is not so easy to determine precisely who the second party is, though in general it may be said that God established the covenant with fallen man. Though there was no historical limitation at first, it became evident in the days of Abraham that it was not intended to include all men. For that reason it does not satisfy to say that God made the covenant with the sinner. There must be some limitation, and therefore some hold that God made the covenant with Abraham and his seed, that is, his natural but especially his spiritual descendants; or, slightly different, with believers and their seed. The majority maintain, however, that He entered into covenant relationship with the elect or the elect sinner. To be perfectly clear in the matter, it is of great importance to make a very necessary distinction.
1. The Covenant of Grace as an End in Itself, a Covenant of Mutual Friendship or Communion of Life.
The covenant of grace may be contemplated as an end which God had in view in the covenant of redemption, as an ultimate spiritual reality which He brings to realization in the course of history through the ministry of the Word and the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit, and which will be perfected at the time of the consummation of all things. From this point of view it is a relation sought and established, namely, a relation of friendship between God and man, a communion of life in which man is made to share in the divine life, the life of the resurrection. It represents a condition in which privileges are improved for spiritual ends, the promises of God are embraced by a living faith, and the promised blessings are brought to full fruition. If the covenant is regarded from this point of view, there would seem to be only one possible position with respect to the second party in the covenant, and that is that God established His covenant of grace with the elect. It is then that gracious agreement between God and the elect sinner, in which God gives Himself with all the blessings of salvation to the elect sinner, and the latter embraces God and all His gracious gifts by faith. In view of the fact that in Abraham the central blessing of the covenant was realized, he is called "the friend of God," Jas. 2:23. Jesus calls His disciples friends, because they share the covenant blessing of the new life and live in obedience to His commandments, John 15:14, 15. Several passages of Scripture speak of God's covenant mercies as realized in those that fear Him, Deuteronomy 7:9; 2 Chronicles 6:14; Psalm 103:17, 18. The way in which this is done in the new dispensation is indicated in Jeremiah 31:3134; Hebrews 10:812. The final realization of the covenant is described in Rev. 21:3, "And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His peoples, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God."
2. The Covenant as a Means to an End, a Purely Legal Relationship Indicative of the Spiritual End That Should Be Realized.
It is quite evident that the Bible also speaks of the covenant in a broader sense, as including many who do not share in the life of the covenant, and even some in whom the covenant promises are never realized. Ishmael and Esau were in the covenant; so were the wicked sons of Eli. The rebellious Israelites, who died in their sins, were covenant people, and even the Scribes and Pharisees, so strongly denounced by Jesus, shared in the privileges of the covenant. The covenant may be regarded as a purely legal agreement, in which God guarantees the blessings of salvation to all those who believe. This agreement may exist as a purely objective arrangement even where nothing is done to realize its purpose. The relation which it represents may exist independently of the attitude assumed by man to his covenant obligations. That is, a man may not meet the covenant requirements, may not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet stand in covenant relationship to God. If we conceive of the covenant in this broader sense, as a purely legal relationship, as a means by which God realizes the blessings of salvation in the lives of those who meet the covenant requirements,then we shall have to say that God established the covenant with believers and their children.
B. The Promises and Requirements of the Covenant of Grace.
Every covenant has two sides: it offers certain privileges and imposes certain obligations. There are in it promises and requirements.
1. The PROMISES of the Covenant of Grace. The main promise of the covenant, which includes all other promises, is contained in the oft-repeated words, "I will be a God unto you and to your seed after you." This promise in its full or in an abbreviated form is found in several Old and New Testament passages, especially in passages which speak of the introduction of a new phase of the covenant life, or which refer to a renewal of the covenant, Jeremiah 31:33; 32:3840; Ezekiel 34:2325, 30, 31; 36:2528; 37:26, 27; Hebrews 8:10; 2 Corinthians 6:1618. The promise is fully realized when at last the new Jerusalem descends out of Heaven from God, and the tabernacle of God is pitched among men, Rev. 21:3. This grand promise is re-echoed time and again in the jubilant exultation of those who stand in covenant relationship to God, "Jehovah is my God." This one promise really includes all other promises, such as
(a) the promise of various temporal blessings, which often serve to symbolize those of a spiritual kind
(b) the promise of justification, including the forgiveness of sins, the adoption of children, and a claim to life eternal;
(c) the promise of the Spirit of God for the application, full and free, of the work of redemption and of all the blessings of salvation; and
(d) the promise of final glorification in a life that never ends, Job 19:2527; Psalm 16:11; 73:2426; Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 31:33, 34; Ezekiel 36:27; Daniel 12:2, 3; Galatians 4:5, 6; Titus 3:7; Hebrews 11:7; Jas. 2:5.
2. The REQUIREMENTS of the Covenant of Grace.
It is sometimes said that the covenant of grace, in distinction from the covenant of works, contains no requirements and imposes no obligations on man. However, this is hardly correct in the absolute sense of the word. It is perfectly true that there are no requirements of a meritorious character. Man earns nothing by meeting the demands of the covenant. It is also true that all the requirements of the covenant are covered by the promises of God, that is, God promises to give man all that He requires of him. Hence the prayer of Augustine: "Lord, give what You command, and then command what You will." Bearing these things in mind, however, it is perfectly correct to speak of covenant requirements. There are especially two things which God demands of those who stand in covenant relationship to Him. He requires of them,
(a) that they accept the covenant and covenant promises by faith, and thus enter upon the life of the covenant; and
(b) that, from the principle of the new life born within them, they consecrate themselves to God in a new obedience.
C. The CHARACTERISTICS of the Covenant of Grace.
There are several characteristics of the covenant of grace.
1. It Is a GRACIOUS Covenant.
This covenant may he called gracious,
(a) because in it God allows a surety to meet our obligations;
(b) because He Himself offers the surety in the person of His Son, who meets the demands of justice; and
(c) because by His grace, revealed in the operation of the Holy Spirit, He enables man to live up to his covenant responsibilities.
2. It Is a TRINITARIAN Covenant.
The triune God is operative in the covenant of grace. It has its origin in the elective love and grace of the Father, finds its legal foundation in the suretyship of the Son, and is fully realized in the lives of sinners only by the effective application of the Holy Spirit, John 1:16; Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 1:2.
3. It Is an ETERNAL and Therefore UNBREAKABLE Covenant.
If we distinguish between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, then we cannot say that the latter was established in eternity. We can maintain, however, that it will endure eternally, Genesis 17:19; 2 Samuel 23:5; Hebrews 13:20. And because the covenant is eternal, it is also inviolable, Hebrews 6:17. God remains forever true to His covenant and will invariably bring it to full realization in the elect. This does not mean, however, that man will never break the covenant relationship.
4. It Is a PARTICULAR, and Not a Universal Covenant.
This means that the essence of the covenant, the relation of friendship with God and of life in communion with Him, will be realized only in the elect, and that even the external covenant relationship does not extend to all men, but only to believers and their seed. The New Testament dispensation of the covenant may be called universal in the sense that in it the covenant is extended to all nations, and is no more limited to the Jews, as it was in the old dispensation.
5. The Covenant Is Essentially the SAME in All Dispensations, Though the FORM of its Administration Changes.
The essential covenant promise is the same throughout, Genesis 17:7; Exodus 19:5; 20:1; Deuteronomy 29:13; 2 Samuel 7:14; Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10. The gospel, which represents the contents of the covenant, is the same in both Testaments, Genesis 3:15; Galatians 1:8, 9; 3:8. The way in which Abraham obtained the realization of the covenant promise, is also the way in which the New Testament believers obtain this, Romans 4:925; Galatians 3:79, 17, 18. Moreover, the Mediator is the same yesterday, today, and forever, Hebrews 13:8; Acts 4:12.
6. The Covenant Is BOTH Conditional and Unconditional.
The covenant is clearly conditional on the suretyship of Jesus Christ. Man's conscious entrance into the covenant as a communion of life is conditioned by faith and his continued enjoyment of its blessings by the persistent exercise of faith. At the same time there is no condition in the covenant that can be regarded as meritorious. In that sense it is unconditional. The sinner is called upon to repent and believe, but his faith and repentance do not in any way merit the blessings of the covenant.
7. The Covenant Can Be Called a TESTAMENT.
The covenant is, of course, two-sided, that is, it is an agreement between two parties. An absolutely one-sided covenant is a contradiction in terms. Yet there is a sense in which the covenant of grace can be called one-sided. In origin the covenant is simply of the nature of a divine disposition or arrangement by which God communicates His blessings to man. Moreover, in the covenant God freely gives all that He demands. And because the covenant is a free and sovereign disposition on the part of God, it can also be called a testament, Hebrews 9:16, 17. This name stresses the facts,
(a) that the covenant is as a whole a gift of God;
(b) that its New Testament dispensation was ushered in by the death of Christ;
(c) that it is firm and inviolable; and
(d) that in it God gives what He demands.
D. The Relation of Christ to the Covenant of Grace. Christ is represented in Scripture as the Mediator of the Covenant. A mediator in the general sense of the word is simply a person who mediates between two opposite parties in an attempt to bring them together. The Scriptural idea of Christ as our Mediator, however, is far more specific and more profound. Christ is Mediator in more than one sense. He intervenes between God and man, not merely to sue for peace and to persuade to it, but armed with full power to do all that is necessary for the actual establishment of peace. He is the Mediator who, as our surety, takes upon Himself the guilt of sinners, pays the penalty of sin, fulfills the law, and thus restores those whom He represents to the right relation to God, Hebrews 7:22; 8:6; 9:15; 12:24. But He is also the Mediator of access, who reveals to men the truth concerning God and their relation to Him, and the conditions of acceptable service; who persuades and enables them to receive the truth, and directs and sustains them in all circumstances of life, so as to perfect their deliverance, Romans 5:2. In doing all this He employs the ministry of men, 2 Corinthians 5:20.
E. Membership in the Covenant.
(N.B. The Editor in no way agrees with Berkhof below, that children and unregenerate are in the Covenant of Grace. This is simply a form of Roman Catholic doctrine, and is not found in Scripture. Any teaching that fills Christ's Church with unregenerate members is a grievous error!)
In speaking of membership in the covenant the distinction between the covenant as a purely legal agreement and the covenant as a communion of life should always be borne in mind.
1. ADULTS in the Covenant.
Adults can only enter the covenant as a legal agreement by faith and confession. And when they so enter it, they at the same time gain entrance into the covenant as a communion of life. The only case in which this does not hold is when the faith is pretended and the confession is false. They enter upon the full covenant life at once therefore, and this is the only way in which they can enter the covenant. They not only become participants in certain external privileges and engage in the performance of certain external duties, but confess that they accept the covenant with a living faith, and that it is their desire and intention to continue in this faith.
2. CHILDREN of Believers in the Covenant.
Children of believers enter the covenant as a legal relationship by birth, but this does not necessarily mean that they are also at once in the covenant as a communion of life. It does not even mean that the covenant relation will ever come to its full realization in their lives. At the same time there is in the case of these children a reasonable assurance that the covenant will in time become a living reality in their experience. This is based on the promise of God, which is absolutely reliable, that He will work in the hearts of the covenant seed with His saving grace and transform them into living members of the covenant. As long as they do not manifest the contrary, we shall have to proceed on the assumption that they are in possession of the covenant life. And when these children come to years of discretion, it is incumbent on them to accept their covenant responsibilities voluntarily by a true confession of faith. Failure to do this is, strictly speaking, a denial of their covenant relationship.
3. UNREGENERATE in the Covenant.
From the preceding it follows that even unregenerate and unconverted persons may be in the covenant as a legal agreement. They may claim the covenant promises, which God gave when He established the covenant with believers and their seed, Romans 9:4. They are subject to the ministrations of the covenant, and are constantly admonished and exhorted to live according to its requirements. The Church treats them as covenant children, offers them the seals of the covenant and exhorts them to a proper use of these. They also share in the common blessings of the covenant, and are even subject to certain special operations of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit strives with them in a special manner, convicts them of sin, enlightens them in a measure, and enriches them with the choicest blessings of common grace, Gen. 6:3; Matt. 13:1822; Heb. 6:4, 5. Finally, they are also under covenant responsibility, and are in duty bound to repent and believe. If they do not turn to God and accept Christ by faith, they will be judged as breakers of the covenant.
F. The Different Dispensations of the Covenant. There are only two dispensations in the strict sense of the word, that of the Old and that of the New Testament. But in the old dispensation we may distinguish several periods or stages in the revelation of the covenant. A brief characterization of these stages must suffice here.
1. The First Revelation of the Covenant with ADAM in Genesis 3:15.
The first revelation of the covenant is found in what is usually called the protevangel or the maternal promise. This does not yet refer to the formal establishment of the covenant. The revelation of such a formal establishment could only follow after the covenant idea had been developed in history. It contains an indication of the division of mankind into two parts, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, and of the friendship of God established with the seed of the woman, involving enmity with the seed of the serpent. The covenant idea is therefore clearly present.
2. The Covenant of Nature with NOAH.
The covenant with Noah is of a very general nature. God promises that He will not again destroy all flesh by the waters of a flood, and that the regular succession of seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will continue. The forces of nature are bridled, the powers of evil are put under great restraint, and man is protected against the violence of both man and beast. It is a covenant conferring only natural blessings, and is therefore often called the covenant of nature or of common grace. There is no objection to this designation, provided it does not convey the impression that this covenant has no connection whatever with the covenant of grace. Though the two differ, they are also most intimately connected. The covenant of nature also originated in the grace of God. It guarantees those earthly and temporal blessings which were absolutely necessary for the realization of the covenant of grace.
3. The Covenant with ABRAHAM.
The covenant was formally established with Abraham. This transaction with Abraham marked the beginning of the particularistic Old Testament administration of the covenant. It is now limited to a single family, to Abraham and his descendants. In the establishment of the covenant with Abraham it becomes perfectly evident that man is a party in the covenant and must respond to the promises of God by faith. The great central fact in the attitude of Abraham is that he believed God and that this was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Moreover, the spiritual blessings of the covenant now become far more apparent than they were before, such as the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit. The covenant with Abraham clearly had two sides. On the one hand it had reference to temporal blessings, such as the land of Canaan, a numerous offspring, and victory over the enemies; and on the other hand it referred to spiritual blessings. The temporal blessings served to symbolize and typify spiritual and heavenly things. The spiritual promises are not realized in the natural descendants of Abraham as such, but only in those who also follow in the footsteps of Abraham.
4. The SINAITIC Covenant.
The covenant at Sinai was essentially the same as that established with Abraham, though the form differed somewhat. It was now established with the nation of Israel, and thus became a truly national covenant. In a large measure Church and State became one. The Sinaitic covenant included a service which contained a positive reminder of the strict demands of the covenant of works. It was not a renewed covenant of works, however; the law was made subservient to the covenant of grace. While the theocratic standing of the Israelite was made dependent on his keeping of the law, Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 27:26; 2 Corinthians 3:7, 8, the law served a twofold purpose in connection with the covenant of grace, namely,
(a) to increase the consciousness of sin, Romans 3:20; 4:15; 5:13; Galatians 3:19; and
(b) to be a tutor unto Christ, Galatians 3:24. There was a detailed ceremonial and typical service. A separate priesthood was instituted, and a continuous preaching of the gospel in symbols and types was introduced. These symbols and types appeared under two different aspects: as the demands of God imposed on the people; and as a divine message of salvation to the people. The Jews largely lost sight of the latter aspect, and fixed their attention almost exclusively on the former. They regarded the covenant ever increasingly as a covenant of works, and saw in the symbols and types a mere appendage to this.
5. The NEW TESTAMENT Dispensation of the Covenant. The covenant of grace, as it is revealed in the New Testament, is essentially one with the covenant that stands out on the pages of the Old Testament. This is abundantly evident from Romans 4 and Galatians 3. It is true that it is sometimes called a new covenant, Jeremiah 31:31; Hebrews 8:8, 13; but this finds a sufficient explanation in the fact that the New Testament administration of the covenant differs in several particulars from that of the Old Testament. While in the Old Testament form it was limited to a single nation, in its New Testament aspect it broke through the barriers of particularism and became universal in the sense that its blessings were extended to people of all nations. Through the finished work of Christ the middle wall of partition was broken down, all nations were given free access to God, and those that were afar off were brought near. Moreover, there is also a difference in the quality of its benefits, in the spiritual and gracious character of its blessings. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church, and out of the fullness of the grace of God enriches believers with spiritual and eternal blessings. The present dispensation of the covenant will continue until the return of Jesus Christ, when the covenant relation will be realized in the fullest sense of the word in a life of intimate communion with God. Rev. 21:3.
Question for Review:
What distinction do we apply to the covenant of grace?
What answer should be given to the question as to the second party in the covenant?
What is the all-embracing promise of the covenant?
What spiritual blessings does this include?
What temporal blessings did it include in the Old Testament?
What does God require of those with whom He enters into covenant relationship?
Which are the characteristics of the covenant?
In what sense is the covenant unbreakable, and in what sense is it sometimes broken?
How can you prove the unity of the covenant in both dispensations?
In what sense is it conditional and in what sense unconditional?
Why can the covenant be called a testament?
Where do we find the first revelation of the covenant?
What is the nature of the covenant with Noah?
Is it at all related to the covenant of grace?
With whom was the covenant formally established?
What characterizes the covenant with Abraham?
How was the Sinaitic covenant related to the covenant with Abraham?
How did the two covenants differ?
What characterizes the New Testament dispensation in the covenant?
What is the position of Christ in the covenant of grace?
In what twofold sense is He Mediator?