GOD AND ADAM Reformed Theology and the Creation Covenant (PDF)

Author’s Preface

 Presbyterian and Reformed churches have always been interested in the covenant idea, first the covenant of grace in Christ, but also a covenant with Adam before sin, commonly called the covenant of works. But what the covenant of works really meant in the 17th century, when it became standard orthodoxy, is often very poorly understood today. That ignorance has contributed to modifications which are not always for the better.

I think that the structure of covenant theology as it developed in the 17th century was essentially on the right lines. More careful exegesis may refine that presentation, but should not lead to it being abandoned. The covenant of works/covenant of grace distinction is not an artificial one unwarranted by Scripture, but a proper distinction which clarifies and safeguards the heart of the Gospel in the saving union of the believer with Christ through faith. The impact of confusion or wrong thinking concerning God and Adam, will impact down the line in the understanding of salvation in Christ, the Last Adam.

I could not find a monograph in English on the covenant with Adam which would enable an adequate assessment of the development of covenant thinking prior to 1700.1 Hence I have written this small book to fill the gap, and to try and limit divisions among some at the present time, to the extent that misunderstanding or ignorance are causing them.

After an introductory overview, I provide a relatively non-technical presentation of covenant thought loyal to the main lines of the historic Reformed teaching but hopefully taking account of biblical context and historic development in a way that was not usually prominent/possible in the 17th century.

The historical section outlines developments with emphasis on the sources speaking for themselves. My aim is to make the book useful to students and ministers by including translations of materials not easily found, and by adequate citations from original sources. Spelling in older works has been modernised except for book titles. Not every aspect of the doctrine is considered in detail, but sufficient is given on the major areas to enable something of the progress in formulating the doctrine to be seen, and for the differences among the orthodox to be recognised. It is thought that quite some light is thrown on the formulation in the Westminster Confession.

Friends and colleagues in several countries have assisted with translations, information or critical review of particular points. They include Dr R. Scott Clark, Rev Gwyn Davies, Dr J. Ligon Duncan, Dr Richard Gaffin, Rev Richard Holst, Rev C. Lee Irons, Rev R.C.Janssen, Dr F. Nigel Lee, Rev Norman Shepherd, Rev Rutger ter Beek, Dr Carl Trueman, Rev Gerald Van Rongen, Rev Cor Vanderhorn, Mr Chad Van Dixhoorn and Dr Noel Weeks. Where appropriate they have been acknowledged in the footnotes. Of course the responsibility for the positions adopted is my own.

The facilities of Monash University in Melbourne, with its microfilm collection of early English books, have been invaluable. Grace Mullen, the ever-helpful Librarian at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia has located more than one hard to find item. I also record my appreciation to my wife Anna and to the loving congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, Wantirna, Melbourne. This book was commenced about October 2001 and completed on 16 March 2003, the 27th anniversary of my ordination to the Gospel ministry.

1H. Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics Set Out and Illustrated from the Sources [1861] trans. G.T.Thomson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) 281-300 is useful but largely omits writers before Cocceius (1648), nor does it show the progress in development. From the viewpoint of systematic theology the section in Herman Bavinck’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek from the early 20th century is the best statement of the covenant of works; in English translation as In the Beginning (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999) 197-225. The only monograph I know of is that by N.Diemer, Het Scheppingsverbond met Adam (het verbond der werken) bij de theologen der 16th, 17th en 18th eeuw in Zwitserland, Duitschland, Nederland en Engeland [The Creation Covenant with Adam (the Covenant of Works): theologians of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands and England] (Kampen: Kok, 1935). This 80 page work is, according to my informant, Rev R.C.Janssen of Nagele, The Netherlands, ‘very succinct, almost to the point of being cryptic’. The detailed abstract Mr Janssen provided to me suggests also an overlay of Diemer’s own views on the material, and a limited treatment of English writers.

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