Thursday, July 16, 2009

6 Marrow Theology: The Depth and Extent of Adam's Sin

In the beginning of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, we find Nomista (the legalist) and Evangelista (the pastor) discussing the Covenant of Works. One of the plainest and most concise treatments of the Covenant of Works ensues, in which several of the objections some in the church today (particularly those in the Federal Vision camp) have against the notion of a covenant of works in the garden are dealt with. Among these are

1) Nowhere is the word 'covenant' used to describe the situation of Adam in the Garden and the obedience required of him.

To this objection, Evangelista replies:
"Evan. Though we read not the word 'covenant' betwixt God and man, yet have we there recorded what may amount to as much; for God provided and promised to Adam eternal happiness, and called for perfect obedience, which appears from God's threatening, Gen. ii.17; for if a man must die if he disobeyed, it implies strongly that God's covenant was with him for life if he obeyed. (p. 29, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Several of the above-mentioned disputers with the doctrine of the Covenant of Works argue that, in fact, Adam was subject to the requirement of faith, and not of works.... an objection with which I cannot agree or really understand. What is presented in Genesis is CLEARLY a covenant requiring perfect, flawless obedience.

2) that regardless of any covenant, man owed God perfect obedience anyway... so that there is no need to speak of any covenant. It's fair, I think, to say that ANYONE who has read the Bible at all and understands the creature-creator distinction realizes that yes, indeed, had there been no covenant at all in the Garden, Adam would have been bound to perfectly obey. The point is, though, as Evangelista makes it, that God did in fact append promising and threatening to Adam's obedience/disobedience - and this is key.
"Evan. Yea, indeed: perfect and perpetual obedience was due from man unto God, though God had made no promise to man; for when God created man at first, he put forth an excellency from himself into him; and therefore it was the bond and tie that lay upon man to return that again unto God; so that man being God's creature, by the law of creation he owed all obedience and subjection to God his Creator.

Nom. Why, then, was it needful that the Lord should make a covenant with him, by promising him life and threatening him with death?

Evan. For answer hereunto, in the first place, I pray you understand, that man was a reasonable creature; and so, out of judgment, discretion, and election, able to make choice of his way, and therefore it was meet there should be such a covenant made with him, that he might, according to God's appointment, serve him after a reasonable manner. Secondly, It was meet there should be such a covenant made with him, to show that he was not such a prince on earth, but that he had a sovereign Lord: therefore, God set a punishment upon the breach of his commandment; that man might know his inferiority, and that things betwixt him and God were not as betwixt equals. Thirdly, It was meet there should be such a covenant made with him, to show that he had nothing by personal, immediate, and underived right, but all by gift and gentleness: so that you see it was an equal covenant, which God, out of his prerogative-royal, made with mankind in Adam before his fall." (pp. 31-32, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Adam indeed owed perfect obedience to God as a creature of God... that is certainly agreed to by all. However, the covenant of works has many distinct reasons for being - among them are the points given above... almost pedagogical and certainly revelatory characteristics. God revealed particular things to us by means of the institution of the Covenant of Works, and, importantly, promised Adam eternity of life and happiness contingent upon his obedience under the terms of this covenant. What is often denied by those who dispute the existence of the Covenant of Works is that Adam's eternal state, had he obeyed in perpetuity, would ever have changed.

We have to remember that Adam was created posse peccare et posse non peccare - able to sin, able not to sin. He was freely able to choose sin or not. To be suspended in such a condition for eternity would NOT be the eternal and free bliss that was promised him, nor is it the eternal and free bliss that we are to enjoy upon glorification. That free and eternal state is characterized by the phrase non posse peccare - not able to sin. Confirmed in righteousness, in other words - never to be subject again to the possibility of sinning. That was not Adam's state in the Garden, ever... yet we know from the way the Bible describes the eternal state that it is God's design that His people eternally be free from sin. And so shall we be. This existence was promised upon Adam's "passing the test" as it were. Given the promise, upon obedience - given the threat, upon disobedience... there was something more in the Garden between God and Adam than the mere creature-Creator relationship.

Finally, I want to turn ahead a little bit because the treatment of Adam's breach of the covenant of works is interesting. Yes, he had but one commandment - but as the author argues, all the Law was wrapped up in that one commandment. Adam's breach was therefore of immense proportion - almost impossible to imagine its magnitude:
"Evan. Though at first glance it seems to be a small offence, yet, if we look more wistfully 5 upon the matter it will appear to be an exceeding great offence; for thereby intolerable injury was done unto God; as, first, His dominion and authority in his holy command was violated. Secondly, His justice, truth, and power, in his most righteous threatenings, were despised. Thirdly, His most pure and perfect image, wherein man was created in righteousness and true holiness, was utterly defaced. Fourthly, His glory, which, by an active service, the creature should have brought to him, was lost and despoiled. Nay, how could there be a greater sin committed than that, when Adam, at that one clap, broke all the ten commandments?" (p. 35, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
All? Yes, all. We are so ready to accept a brief, woodenly literalistic interpretation of the ten commandments such that only something designated as the literal telling of a falsehood is a breach of commandment #9 - and only a crafting of a carved idol to which one bows down and worships as a god in its own right is a breach of commandment #2. This hardly captures the meaning of the ten commandments, which encompass EVERY sin. There is not a single sin that can be committed that is not covered by the ten commandments... and as Evangelista argues, Adam's breach of the command in the garden not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a breach of the WHOLE law, in every part.
"Nom. Did he break all the ten commandments, say you? Sir, I beseech you show me wherein.

Evan. 1. He chose himself another God when he followed the devil.

2. He idolized and deified his own belly; as the apostle's phrase is, "He made his belly his God."

3. He took the name of God in vain, when he believed him not.

4. He kept not the rest and estate wherein God had set him.

5. He dishonoured his Father who was in heaven; and therefore his days were not prolonged in that land which the Lord his God had given him.

6. He massacred himself and all his posterity.

7. From Eve he was a virgin, but in eyes and mind he committed spiritual fornication.

8. He stole, like Achan, that which God had set aside not to be meddled with; and this his stealth is that which troubles all Israel,—the whole world.

9. He bare witness against God, when he believed the witness of the devil before him.

10. He coveted an evil covetousness, like Amnon, which cost him his life, (2 Sam 13), and all his progeny. Now, whosoever considers what a nest of evils here were committed at one blow, must needs, with Musculus, see our case to be such, that we are compelled every way to commend the justice of God, and to condemn the sin of our first parents, saying, concerning all mankind, as the prophet Hosea does concerning Israel, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself," (Hosea 3:9)." (pp. 35-36, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)

Every one. Adam failed at every point to uphold the perfection of obedience required of him. And we fell in him, with him, under him as our head. Thus the beginning of the "bad news".

The "bad news" is quite substantial - all of us, from the least to the greatest, rich or poor, sick or healthy, ALL are conceived in this state of utter failure, having already broken the Law of God, standing already guilty before we have done anything. The greatness of Adam's guilt and sin and effects thereof are exceeded only by the greatness and effects of Christ's righteousness and the substitutionary atonement whereby God's elect are covered with the full righteous robes of Christ - having the penalty of the Law satisfied on their behalf, and the rightoeusness of a perfect record of obedience, required of them through the covenant of works, also satisfied for them. Christ in our room - in our stead - and we in Him, accepted of the Father. How glorious is our God and gracious is He.


Nick Mackison said...

Superb. Thanks for posting this, it was a real help.

Anonymous said...

Not Superb.

"Several of the above-mentioned disputers with the doctrine of the Covenant of Works argue that, in fact, Adam was subject to the requirement of faith, and not of works.... an objection with which I cannot agree or really understand."

Faith in this situation would have looked exactly like perfect, flawless, (i.e. sinless) obedience. If Adam's pre-fall obedience were either 1) an expression of his faith and trust in God's word, or, 2) not an expression of his faith and trust in God's word, which do you choose?

"What is presented in Genesis is CLEARLY a covenant requiring perfect, flawless obedience."

We call that one an unproven assertion, or an arbitrary premise. The problem with these is that they are reversible. Here, let me show you: "What is presented in Genesis is CLEARLY a covenant requiring faith alone."

Please look into the science of argumentation before doing posts. You have to make sure your readers can get to Point 2 before you lose them.


Todd said...

Josh -

I'm not going to bicker with you on terms of logical argumentation because somehow your presuppositions have colored your reading of what I posted. I wasn't posting an entire argument, but trusting that the reader could read Genesis for himself and see what was required of Adam.

The command to Adam in Genesis 2:17 is a simple one. Do not eat of the fruit. Paul in Romans 5 argues that it is one act of disobedience (where does he say one failure of faith?) that plunged all of humanity into the cursed existence of a broken covenant.

I don't see a commandment to faith there, but a requirement to not eat of the fruit of the tree. Your proposed covenant requiring perfect faith is not present, whereas the commandment that Adam conform his behavior to a particular path is quite easily seen if you simply read the text in Genesis and then study Romans in light of it.

Anonymous said...


So would Adam's obedience have flowed from his faith or not? You may not want to bicker about my logic but you could at least answer my question.

No doubt presuppositions are working in my reading, just as they are in yours. For example, you present an argument from silence when you suggest that because the text mentions a command, then it doesn't imply faith. But perhaps you’ve presented something like a false dilemma: are you suggesting that Adam was either required to either believe God's word, or obey God's word, but not both?

Todd said...

Adam's obedience surely would have flowed from faith.

However, that is immaterial. For what is Adam condemned in Scripture? His obedience, or his faith?

To carry Paul's discussion in Romans 5 into this - for what is Christ praised? His obedience, or his faith?

The command to Adam was not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There is no argument from silence being made there - it is plain as day that Adam was not to eat as the condition upon him. To argue that "faith" is what Adam was commanded to have is to miss the boat badly.

A question for the monocovenantalists: if Adam was commanded to have faith - how was that faith to be tested? By the obedience required of him? Fine.
He failed the test, as is evident from Genesis 3 and Romans 5 and the whole of Scripture, indeed.

If the whole point of this argument is to lay out Adam's requirements as being the same as our own, then what happens to us when we fail the test of faith, to have the faith you say was commanded of Adam?

Unknown said...

Hi - I'm a newcomer to your blog and wish to lurk no longer, so here I am. I am greatly enjoying your posts - thanks, and keep it up! SDG


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