Monday, July 27, 2009

0 Marrow Theology: Bavinck Weighs In on the Covenant of Works

In thinking through the first part of The Marrow of Modern Divinity , I went back to Bavinck, who in volume 2 of his masterful Reformed Dogmatics makes a helpful connection much more smoothly than I did in my previous post. That is, the connection between Christ's covenant headship and Adam's. Paul very clearly in Romans 5:12-21 points out the relationship between Adam and Christ as covenant heads of different groups of people - Adam, of all the human race, Christ of His elect people. What accrues to Christ's people is a result of His fulfillment of His covenant obligations. What accrues to Adam's people is the result of His failure to uphold his. We, as human beings, are fallen, and are conceived as those guilty, by our union with our natural covenant head, Adam, of breaking God's covenant (as Adam, they broke the covenant, Hosea 6:7; as in Adam, all die, 1 Cor. 15:22; as through one man's tresspass judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, Romans 5:18). If there was no covenant, then there is no just condemnation of all men because of Adam's sin (yet that is what Scripture clearly tells us - that we are condemned because of that one transgression).

To the monocovenantalists, I ask - what was that transgression for which we are condemned? It is surely the transgression of the terms of the covenant. If Adam broke the covenant that we are in, the covenant of grace, as monocovenantalists often argue, then how is it that we can be saved through the covenant of grace??

Anyway, I promised Bavinck's remarks - so here they are, in brief:
"As the obedience of one man, that is, Christ, and the grace granted to humanity in him, brought acquittal, righteousness, and life, so the one transgression and misdeed of the one man is the cause of condemnation, sin and death for humanity as a whole. The relation between us and Adam is like that between us and Christ. We in fact stand to Adam in the same relation. He is a type of Christ, our head, from whom guilt and death accrue to us because of his transgression. He is the cause of the death of us all; we all die in Adam (1 Cor. 15:22). Here, too, Adam's relation to God is a covenant relation, described now not so much in the direction of God as in the direction of those who are included in that covenant under Adam as head. " (p. 565, Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics)
One of the common corrolaries of monocovenantal thought is the idea that Adam already had the highest life one could have as a human being - that there was no further promise of greater things; that all he had to do was be "covenantally faithful" and he would remain eternally on Earth in the Garden with God.

It is immediately evident, though, that Adam did NOT have the "highest" that one could have as a creature, because he was created with the possibility of sinning and transgressing the covenant in which he was created. He could still die. Eternity in such a state is not a happy state of affairs at all - for there was always the possibility of a fall. We know, though, that in our eternal state, there will be no such possibility. No sin, ever, in our glorified persons. Hence the highest state possible is NOT that which Adam had in the Garden... As Bavinck wrote earlier in this same section,
"He was given the fruit of herbs and trees for food (Gen. 1:29), a paradise as his dwelling place (Gen. 2:8ff.), a woman as helper (Gen. 2:18ff), a command for guidance (Gen. 2:16-17), and a threat of punishment in case of transgression (Gen. 2:17). It is evident from this scenario that the first man, however highly placed, did not yet possess the highest humanity. There is a very great difference between the natural and the pneumatic, between the state of integrity and the state of glory." (p. 564, Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics )
Importantly, Bavinck makes another connection that is often missed by those who hold to "one covenant." That is, that the covenant of works in the Garden is NOT the invention of 16th and 17th century continental and British theologians:
"...everyone acknowledges that Adam did not yet possess the highest humanity, a truth implicit in the probationary command, the freedom of choice, the possibility of sin and death. Especially Augustine made a clear distinction between the ability not to sin (posse non peccare) and not to die (posse non mori), which Adam possessed, and the inability to sin (non posse peccare) and the inability to die (non posse mori), gifts that were to be bestowed along with the glorification of the first man in case of obedience and now granted to the elect out of grace. (City of God, XVI, 27) The relation in which Adam originally stood vis-a-vis God was even described by God as a covenant, a testament, a pact, and the translation of the words ke'adam by "like Adam" led many to a similar view. Materially, therefore, the doctrine of what was later called "the covenant of works" also already occurs in the church fathers. Included in Adam's situation, as it was construed by the Scholastics, Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians, lay all the elements that were later summed up especially by Reformed theologians in the doctrine of the covenant of works..." (pp. 566-567, Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics)
So the idea of the covenant of works is hardly novel to the early summations of covenant ideas among the continental and British reformed... while it is clear that Bullinger and Cocceius codified things most clearly (not to mention Calvin, Olevianus and Ursinus and others) it cannot be called an invention of the Reformation. It cannot also be limited to the Scottish and English delegates to the Westminster Assembly, as I've also heard claimed... but perhaps those comments are for a later date.



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