WCF 7.2 — Pastoral Comments

Posted on Jun 13, 2019 by admin

7.2 The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works,1 wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity,2 upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.3

1 Gal 3:12; 2 Rom 10:5; 5:12–20; 3 Gen 2:17; Gal 3:10.

We noted previously how God has condescended to deal with man by way of covenant. This is because man could not otherwise have any fruition and blessedness in God due to the infinite distance between God and man. But if this is the case, how do we explain the fact that God appears to deal with our first parents, Adam and Eve, simply and directly without any covenant provisions?

The answer is that it only appears to be not a covenantal interaction because the word “covenant” is not use in the account in the first three chapters of Genesis. But the reality is that all the elements of a covenant relationship are present. Every covenant has four essential elements: (1) Parties; (2) Conditions; (3) Blessing; and (4) Curse. The parties in this case are clear. They are God on the one hand and Adam representing all mankind on the other hand. We know that Adam was standing as a representative of all mankind because these were spoken to him before anyone else, include Eve, came into existence. The condition is set by God for Adam: “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” (Gen 2:17). Since, “the tree was good for food” (Gen 3:6), we know that the prohibition is actually simple test of perfect and personal obedience to God simply because he is God. If Adam passes this test, then we can expect him to obey all of God’s commandments. The curse is explicit: Adam and his posterity would die if he fails this test. They would die spiritually, bodily and eternally. Conversely, the blessing is implied, even life everlasting as signified by the Tree of Life which was available to Adam to eat thereof.

So we see that all essential elements of a covenant are present in God’s dealing with Adam. This is confirmed by other passages of Scripture. For examples, Hosea 6:7 may be better rendered: “They like Adam have transgressed the covenant.” Likewise, the parallel which the Apostle Paul draws between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12–21, in connection with justification, can only be explained on the assumption that Adam, like Christ, is the head of a covenant party. Just as Adam’s sin was imputed on his posterity whom he represented, Christ’s righteousness is imputed on the elect whom he represented.

Theologically, moreover, Adam could not have merited life by obedience except God condescended to reward him with it via a covenant agreement.

Since this covenant requires Adam to keep God’s commandments to obtain life, theologians call it a Covenant of Works or a Covenant of Life. Thus we are given to confess “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.”

Extracted and translated from:
Westminster Confession of Faith — With Brief Pastoral Comments
© 2019 by Pilgrim Covenant Church
Translation and posted with permission
Chinese version Copyright © 2019 Gratia Dei Sola Media