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The State of Man Before the Fall and the Covenant of Nature

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) - The Most Precise Theologian of the Reformation Era

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“Every decree of God is eternal; therefore it cannot depend upon a condition which takes place only in time. (2) God’s decrees depend on his good pleasure (eudokia) (Mt. 11:26; Eph. 1:5; Rom. 9:11). Therefore they are not suspended upon any condition outside of God. (3) Every decree of God is immutable (Is. 46:10; Rom. 9:11).”

The Scholastic Reformer explains how “covenant works” in the Covenant of Works.

IV. This double covenant is proposed to us in Scripture:

Twofold of nature and of grace; of works and of faith; legal and covenant: of evangelical. The foundation of this distinction rests both on the different relation of God contracting (who can be considered now as Creator and Lord, then as Redeemer and Father) and on the diverse condition of man (who may be viewed either as a perfect or as a fallen creature); also on the diverse mode of ob­taining life and happiness (either by proper obedience or by another’s imputed); finally on the diverse duties prescribed to man (to wit, works or faith). For in the former, God as Creator demands perfect obedience from innocent man with the promise of life and eternal happiness; but in the latter, God as Father promises salvation in Christ to the fallen man under the condition of faith. The former rests upon the work of man; the latter upon the grace of God alone. The former upon a just Creator; the latter upon a merciful Redeemer. The former was made with innocent man without a mediator; the latter was made with fallen man by the intervention of a mediator.

V. The covenant of nature is that which God the Creator made with innocent man as his creature, concerning the giving of eternal happiness and life under nature.” The condition of perfect and personal obedience. It is called “natural,* not from natural obligation (which God does not have towards man), but because it is founded on the nature of man (as it was at first created by God) and on his integrity of powers. It is also called “legal” because the condition on man’s part was the observation of the law of nature engraved within him; and of “works” because it depended upon works or his proper obedience.

VI. Episcopius, and with him the Remonstrants, deny the existence of that a covenant of nature was made with Adam (“Institutiones theologica,” 2.1 in Opera Theologica [16781, p. 23); but it can be proved. (1) There are granted the essential parties of a covenant, God and man. God, who as the Creator of man, must also be his governor and from this, his legislator, and because good in his own nature, the rewarder also of those who seek him (Heb. 11:6), so that he would not only give him a law for his direction, but also hold forth a reward to him for keeping it (although bound by no right to that). Man who, because a creature, must also wholly depend upon God and, because upright, could keep the inscribed law, and because rational, ought not otherwise than in a rational manner (i.e., by the intellect and will) be governed, both by the prescription of a law, the promise of rewards and the threatening of punish­ment. Also since he was created after the image of divine holiness, he ought to have been led to a communion of that happiness also which is the inseparable at­tendant of holiness.

VII. Second, a law was imposed upon Adam, which necessarily implies a fed­eral agreement and contract. For he who receives it, binds himself officially to obedience under the punishment denounced through the same; he who gives it (for the very reason that he exacts obedience) is bound to furnish indemnity and security to the one obeying. Although Moses sets forth only one part of that fed­eral sanction (referring to punishment. Gen. 2:17). still he proves that the former concerning the promise should not be excluded, both from the sacrament of the tree of life (by which it was sealed) and from the threatening of death (which by reason of contraries had the implied promise of life and from the various passages of Scripture which express more clearly the nature and sanction of the law, as Lev. 18:5-“lf a man do these, he shall live in them,’ cf. Dt. 27:26; Ezk. 20:11; Mt. 19:17; Gal. 3:12).

VIII. Third, the passage in Hos. 6:7 seems not obscurely to intimate this: the Israelites are said to have “transgressed the covenant like Adam”. For although these words may also be explained of the inconstancy of men (that they may be said to have transgressed the covenant as men are wont to do, who are naturally false and fickle, and often deceive expectation), still nothing prevents their being referred also to Adam (that they may be said to have violated the covenant like Adam, their first parent, who miserably broke the covenant contracted with him by God). A similar locution occurs in Job 31:33: “If I covered,’ says he, “my transgressions as Adam.’ Here is a man­ifest reference to the fact of Adam’s endeavoring to excuse and hide his sin (Gen. 3:12).

IX. Fourth, such a covenant was demanded not only by the goodness and phil­anthropy (philanthrapia) of God (which could not exert itself more fitly than by receiving nearer to himself and making happy with his communion the man seeking him), but also by the state of man and the desire of happiness impressed upon his heart by God. Since it cannot be doubted that it was right and lawful, it could not be empty and frustrated, but ought to be fulfilled on the ground of man’s obedience (unless we hold that God wished to feed man with a vain desire and thus deceive him—which even to think is blasphemous).

X. In this covenant we consider: (1) the subject or contracting parties; (2) the pact itself. The contracting parties are God and man. God contracts as Creator and Lord. Under this relation (schesei), two things ate included: legislator power and goodness in remunerating. The former because as Creator he cannot but govern the creature, nor can he govern except suitably to his nature (i.e., rationally [logikos] by the imposition of fit laws). The latter because he could not help loving and rewarding the creature doing his duty.

XI. Man must be viewed under a double relation – Man as just and as the first. He had the power to perform the prescribed duty. Thus there arose the obligation of fulfilling it (which other­wise could not have had place since no one is bound to an absolute im­possibility). In the latter, Adam in a certain manner included the whole human race, which was to spring from him, both as the root and the seminal principle from whom the whole human race was to descend (Acts 17:26); and as a public person and representative head, because he represented all men who were to spring naturally from him. Hence that covenant pertained not only to Adam, but to all his posterity in him. The illustrious Amyrald acknowledges “as he was the first man, he, as it were, represented the whole human race, which was to be born from him” (“Theses Theologicae de Tribus Foederibus Divinis,” 8 in Syntagma Thesium Theologicarum [1664], p. 213). Now the foundation of this union arises from the twofold bond connecting men with Adam: the one natu­ral, according to which he was the common father of all and they his sons; the other forensic, by which from the most wise providence of God he was constituted the chief and head of the human race, who should contract for himself and his, and hold or lose the goods bestowed upon him, as goods common to the whole of nature.

XII. The pact consists of two parts: on the one side, the exaction of duty on the part of God and a restipulation consisting: (a) in on the part of man; on the other side, the promise of the exaction of blessing on the part of God and the acceptation on the duty or of the part of man. The duty was partly general, partly special obedience due to (according to the twofold law given to him: the moral or the law. The general was the knowledge and worship of God, justice towards his neighbor and every kind of holiness; the special was abstinence from the forbidden fruit (in which obedience to the whole law was contained as in a compendium and specimen). The former was founded on the law of nature not written in a book, but engraven and stamped upon the heart (of which Paul says, “All do by nature the things contained in the law, and show the work of the law written in their hearts,” Rom. 2:14, 15). Thus they who are without the written law are not without the engraven law since they (through the dictates of conscience) are a law unto themselves. The latter was founded upon the symbolic and positive law. The for­mer was principal and primary; the latter, however, only secondary. For although he was bound to obey each special precept or that symbolic law given to him, still most especially was obedience to the natural law required of him (for explor­ing of which this symbolic precept only served, as will be shown hereafter).

XIII. The obedience which the law demanded ought to have these marks;(l) with regard to principle-sincerity, to be true and sincere from the whole heart, not hypocritical and external of the body only; (2) with regard to the object—universality, to extend not to certain things only, but to all the pre­cepts of the law without exception; (3) with regard to degrees—intension, to be perfect and absolute; (4) with regard to duration-perseverance, to be constant and perpetual even unto the end without interruption.

XIV. Although man was already bound to this obedience by a natural obliga­tion as a rational creature, necessarily subject to the dominion of God and his law, yet he was mote strongly bound by a federal obligation which God so stipulated that man—by the powers received in creation—could perform it, although in order that he might actually perform it, he still needed the help of God both to actuate these faculties and powers and to preserve them from change. This help did not tend to the infusion of any new power, but only to ex­ercising the efficacy of that power which he had received. Now this did not belong properly to the covenant of nature, but always depended on the most free good pleasure of God; otherwise the covenant of nature had been im­mutable, and man had never sinned.

XV. The sanction of the covenant attended the exaction

(b) The sanction of duty. It consisted both in the promise of reward and in the threatening of punishment. The promise was of the highest happiness (of eternal life) to be passed not on earth but in heaven. The threatening was of death and whatever in Scrip­ture comes under the name of death to express punishment of all kinds (into which man by his own sin deservedly fell).

XVI. However, from this pact arises the mutual obligation of the parties, differing according to their condition. With respect to man, not only was it from die pact, but absolute and simple from the nature of the thing (and on the account of God, to whom man as a creature to the Creator, the beneficiary to the Bene­factor, owed himself wholly and whatever he had to God and was bound to love him with his whole heart). But with respect to God, it was gratuitous, as depending upon a pact or gratuitous promise (by which God was bound not to man, but to himself and to his own goodness, fidelity and truth, Rom. 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:13). Therefore there was no debt (properly so called) from which man could derive a right, but only a debt of fidelity, arising out of the promise by which God demon­strated his infallible and immutable constancy and truth. If the apostle seems to acknowledge this right or debt (Rom. 4:4), it must be understood in no other than a respective sense; not as to the proportion and condignity of the duty rendered to God by man (Rom. 8:18; Lk. 17:10), but to the pact of God and jus­tice (i.e., the fidelity of him making it).

XVII. If therefore upright man in that state had obtained this merit, it must not be understood properly and rigorously. Since man has all things from and owes all to God, he can seek from him nothing as his own by right, nor can God be a debtor to him-not by condignity of work and from its intrinsic value (be­cause whatever that may be, it can bear no proportion to the infinite reward of life), but from the pact and the liberal promise of God (according to which man had the right of demanding the reward to which God had of his own accord bound himself) and in comparison with the covenant of grace (which rests upon the sole merit of Christ, by which he acquired for us the right to life). However, this demanded antecedently a proper and personal obedience by which he ob­tained both his own justification before God and life, as the stipulated reward of his labors.

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