The fact that God created man in his own image means something. To be an image-bearer means that we have, by definition, certain responsibilities to fulfill to our creator. God designed us with a plan in mind, and our responsibility is to carry out that design. Theologians have called this relationship that God has ordained with man the covenant of creation. There are two aspects to this covenant of creation which need to be taken together otherwise a barrage of unintended consequences can result. 1) We need to look at the general requirements that man was given by God in the covenant of creation. 2) We need to look at the specific requirements that Adam was given during his probationary period. For the purpose of this session we are going to be using Robertson’s terms of the general aspect and the focal aspect. The Shorter and Longer Catechisms derived from the Westminster Confession makes the clearest distinction between this general and focal approach. 1) Let’s look at the Shorter Catechism Q. 12 for the focal aspect. The question asks What special act of providence did God exercise towards man, in the estate wherein he was created? When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death. Here we see the Puritans focusing on only the probationary period that Adam was under. Adam, don’t eat the fruit or you will die. 2) The Larger Catechism Q.20 asks nearly the same question yet gives the more complete response: What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created? The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created was, the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him the liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth, putting the creatures under his dominion, ordaining marriage for his help, affording him communion with himself, and instituting the Sabbath; entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death. Here we see the Puritans including not only the specific probationary time that was required of Adam but also the specific spheres of labor, marriage, and Sabbath. During this session, we are going to look at how both the specific and general requirements that God laid on man in the beginning synthesize into one covenant of creation.
THE BIG IDEA is that God instituted the covenant of creation to involve a total-life relationship.
I. The General Aspect of the Covenant of Creation
II. The Focal Aspect of the Covenant of Creation
I. The General Aspect of the Covenant of Creation
Something maybe very obvious to say, but it needs to be said anyway. God purposely ordained certain institutions from the beginning. He doesn’t do things arbitrarily but on purpose, in order to say something about Himself. Since we are His little image reflectors, His little mirrors if you will, He has ordained institutions for us to live our lives by, in order that we could better reflect Him. What we do in the created visible order says something about the eternal invisible order. This general aspect of the covenant of creation is so important to retain and not be treated separately, or divorced from Adam’s specific probationary period. If we divorce it, and focus merely on this other aspect, which is equally important, we can turn into fundamentalists(Robertson) or we can turn into pietists. Either extreme would be bad. So lets look at each one of these creational ordinances to see what they say about God, and how God has designed them from the beginning to run their course throughout human history.
The first creational ordinance that we are going to look at is that of labor. The one thing that many of us forget is that work or labor was designed before the fall. Work was not part of the curse. Work was part of the created order that God said was very good. There are two places in the opening two chapters of Genesis that speak specifically to our work. Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Here we see God commanding a subduing and a dominion over the earth. God is commanding labor. It’s been said that Adam acted as God’s vice-regent, that is to say that Adam was God’s representative with power to act over the created order. This dominion that Adam was given was part of the imaging forth of God. In other words, man’s dominion over the earth speaks about God’s dominion over all things. This wasn’t just a description of Adam’s ability, but his responsibility. God commanded this subduing and dominion to issue forth from man’s hands. Genesis 2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Working and keeping the creation in order was our assigned duty from the beginning and continues to this day.
The New Testament bears this out under the New Covenant. 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 says “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” In other words, when Christ came and established the covenant in his blood, this creational ordinance of labor was not overturned.
In fact I believe this labor ordinance will continue on into the infinite future. In Matthew 25, when Jesus gives the parable of the talents, he describes their rewards by telling them that He will put them in “charge of many things.” I don’t want to press the parable to far, but Jesus was painting a picture of responsibilities that were given to glorified men in eternity. Work. This makes sense since work was created before the fall and was described as very good. It seems to line up with the Biblical evidence that the covenantal ordinance of labor will always be in effect, because ultimately this labor speaks about how God works all things perfectly for his glory.
This creational ordinance might be the easiest one for American Christians especially to overlook and marginalize. But it’s found right in the beginning in Genesis 2:2-3 “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” What we see here is a work and rest pattern that God ordained in creation, and later implemented as part of the law for the nation of Israel to follow. Six days of subduing the earth and one day of holy rest. Historically, when the nation of Israel broke the Mosaic covenant, they were driven from the land. The time in which they were absent from the land was determined by the number of Sabbaths that they violated. 2 Chronicles 36:21 says “...to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.” This punishment fit with the crime. Which should tell us something about what holy rest actually is. In fact under the ceremonial law given to Israel, if an individual broke the Sabbath, he was worthy of death. So was this sabbath just an arbitrary thing that God set up separate from His personhood? No! To observe the Sabbath, to observe holy rest, is to worship God. God made the sabbath first and foremost in reference to Himself.
God covenanted with mankind, to rest for His glory.
What does this mean for us under the new covenant? How does the covenant of sabbath apply to us? First and foremost its important to declare that Jesus fulfilled this covenant of Sabbath perfectly for us! Calvin is helpful here “...on the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, the ceremonial part of the commandment was abolished. He is the truth, at whose presence all the emblems vanish; the body, as the sight of which which the shadows disappear. He, I say, is the completion of the sabbath...Christians...should have nothing to do with a superstitious observance of days.”
This is why Paul says in Colossians 2:16-17 “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” That last part is the key “the substance belongs to Christ.” I would contend that the spiritual aspect of the Sabbath ordinance is still in affect. It found it’s completion in Christ’s work and will find it’s perfect consummation in the new heavens in the new earth when we will find perfect holy rest in God
Robertson says this “...it is fitting that the new covenant radically alters the Sabbath perspective. The current believer in Christ does not follow the Sabbath pattern of the people of the old covenant. He does not first labor six days, looking hopefully to rest. Instead, he begins the week by rejoicing in the rest already accomplished by the cosmic even of Christ’s resurrection. Then he enters joyfully into his six days of labor, confident of success through the victory which Christ has already won.”
For more on this idea and specifically the first day of the week being the Christian’s day of worship, I would commend to you the Institutes, specifically II.IIX.IIXXX thru XXXIV.
This covenant of marriage is also found inside the bigger circle of the covenant of creation. Even this most fundamental of human relationships was determined at the beginning of God’s making all things. This is perhaps the clearest out of the three, because all over Scripture this is referred to as a covenant. Genesis 2:20-24 “The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
That is a crystal clear example of “bond-in-blood sovereignly administered.”
There are three things in particular that Robertson references here in regard to this marriage covenant founded in the covenant of creation. 1) This idea of oneness. After the covenant of marriage was sovereignly administered by God, Adam and Eve became one flesh. Then, as the head of the human race, Adam prophetically called all marriages to be patterned after this. “Because Eve is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh therefore shall all future marriages reflect this same oneness, this one “fleshness.”
2) As we have already said, man, under the covenant of labor, is to have dominion over the earth. However after Adam named the animals, there was not found a helper suitable to him. So, God created Eve for Adam, woman for man in order that he would have a suitable helpmate. 1 Cor. 11:9 “Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” This does not mean that woman was an after thought or a footnote. Woman, like man, was created in the image of God and she says something different about God that man cannot say. 3) Both God-glorifying sex and populating the earth, as part of the marriage covenant, were based in creation. Child raising was part of the command given all the way back in Genesis 1:28, and then given structure to in Genesis 2. And God-glorifying sex can only be done in the context of this marriage covenant. When perversions are described in Romans 1, Paul speaks of them as going against their “natural relations.” In other words, sex outside of the marriage relationship goes against the created order or the covenant of creation.
In summary, we see these labor, sabbath, and marriage all as divine covenants sovereignly administered within the covenant of creation.
II. The Focal Aspect of the Covenant of Creation
Now moving on to the more specific requirements laid upon Adam. Genesis 2:16-17 records this “...the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” I think Robertson says something unhelpful in this section. On pages 84 he says that “...the point of testing reduces itself to man’s willingness to choose obedience for the sake of obedience alone.”
This maybe just careless speech, although he does repeat this same thought on the next page. Let me just say that God does require obedience. Perfect obedience. But not for the sake of obedience alone. For the sake of His great glory. Adam was supposed to obey for the sake of acknowledging that God was God and he was not. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a representation of something. Adam was given dominion over all the earth. This dominion said something about God. Mankind has dominion over the earth because we are imaging forth God having dominion over all things. The tree represented that. It represented the one thing that Adam did not have dominion over, which was God. His testing was to see if he would submit to God’s Godness, to His rule and reign. This is seen clearly in how Satan tempted Eve. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?...For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan lied about man’s role in the universe and about God’s role in the universe. His lie focused it’s poison on man’s ability to have dominion over all things. Not just dominion over the earth, but over God. “You will be like God. No longer do you have to submit to him, eat of this tree, and you have dominion like he has dominion.” The tree was a real tree, but symbolic of God’s authority. The focal aspect of the covenant of creation focused around that idea. Will man submit to God or not?
If we think about this probationary testing in those terms, it seems less separated and arbitrary. God didn’t require obedience for the sake of obedience alone. He required an acknowledgement of his Godness. Nor did he have something against a certain type of fruit. He was symbolizing his authority in the form of a test. A test, by the way, in which we fail all the time. Not because we are constantly eating of the tree of the knowledge of good an evil, but because when we sin in any way it reflects Adam and Eve’s sin. They rebelled against God’s authority, and so do we. When ever we sin, we are seeking to have dominion over all things because by default we are rejecting God’s right to be God over our lives. That’s what happened in the garden and that is what is still happening today.
Which is why consequently we are so desperately in need of a substitute. Christ perfectly showed his submission to God. He perfectly obeyed for the joy that was set before Him. He had clear sight of God’s dominion over all things, and he being the God-man, made himself obedient to death, even death on a cross. He did this in order that all would one day, make that same acknowledgment.
Phil 2:9-11 “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Quotes from O. Palmer Robertson The Christ of the Covenants Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1980