A quick glance at a few books establishes the fact that Reformed theology has long harboured the notion that there was a covenant with creation. For example, W.J. Dumbrell has a work entitled “Covenant and Creation” which argues the case strongly, and the subtitle of R.S. Ward’s work “God and Adam” is “Reformed Theology and The Creation Covenant”. Part 2 of O.P.Robertson’s book “The Christ of the Covenants” is headed “The Covenant of Creation”, and the second chapter of his smaller work “Covenants” which refers to covenantal beginnings is sub-titled “The covenant of Creation”. Again, the final page (194) of Golding’s “Covenant Theology” tells us that covenant and creation belong together. It would be easy to go on, but my point has been made.
My problem with the notion of a covenant with creation arises from two sources. The first work I can remember reading on reformed covenant theology was “The Covenant of Grace” by John Murray. While the author observes (p.12) that the covenant of the day and night in Jeremiah 33:20,25 is used with reference to God’s creative and providential ordinances (see further below), he expounds in some detail what he calls “the post-diluvian Noahic covenant” of Genesis 9:9-17 as the first instance of God’s bestowal of grace on men. Secondly, as a conscientious reader of the Bible I can hardly be unaware that the first reference to a covenant in Scripture occurs in Genesis 6:18 where a covenant with Noah is promised. To put the issue otherwise, though, as Dumbrell in particular maintains, a pre-existing relationship of some kind is evident in Genesis 1 and 2, there is conspicuously no reference to a covenant with either creation or with Adam, the first and representative man (1 Cor. 15:45-49). I conclude therefore that the relationship between Creator and creation is non-covenantal.
It is these two points which initially caused me to question Reformed, Premillennial and Dispensational theology. For the latter first posits an Edenic covenant (Gen. 1:28) governing the dispensation of innocence and then a covenant with Adam based on Genesis 3:14 (sic, Allis, p.299). Needless to say, neither of these covenants receives any support from Scripture itself. But there is more to be said.
The Plan of Salvation
As I understand the Bible, God’s plan from the beginning was to make men and women, whom he had created in his image, his heavenly children (Eph. 1:4f.; Heb. 2:10, cf. Rom. 8:14-17,21; 1 John 3:1-3). This might well be inferred from Genesis 1:26,28 (cf. Ps. 8:5), but it is certainly implied as early as Genesis 2:17. It is not therefore surprising that Paul draws the conclusion that our calling as believers in Christ, who alone attained to the perfection of God (Mt. 21:19; Heb. 1:3), is to be conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29, cf. Mt. 5:48) and thus be glorified in and with him at God’s right hand in heaven (8:30, cf. Rev. 3:21, etc.). It is important to notice, however, that glorification involves the end of the present age and the created universe (Rev. 20:11; 21:1, etc.). The implication is, then, that creation was never the subject of a covenant. Let us explore further.
This raises the question of the meaning of a covenant. Needless to say, it has been greatly debated in recent years. To cut a long story short, there seems to be a general consensus that while covenant in the Bible, where the word diatheke rather than suntheke is used, harbours the notion of agreement, at least of consent (cf. Murray, p.11), the emphasis falls heavily on the unilateral action of God in establishing his covenants with men. Thus, though God imposes the law, which brooks no refusal, on Israel, redeemed from Egypt, at Sinai (Ex. 19:5f.; Dt. 5:2f.), nonetheless Israel consents to the arrangement (Ex. 19:8; 24:3,7, cf. Jos. 1:16f.). In this case there was, of course, a pre-existing relationship established with Abraham (cf. Ex. 2:24). Does the same hold true with regard to the Noahic covenant? As already intimated, Dumbrell, for example, is convinced that it does, and he argues that the covenant with Noah is a confirmation of what was in fact an already existing covenant (p.43). The evidence, or rather the lack of it, tells against him. Bluntly, prior to Noah, there is no indication of a covenantal relationship whatever.
The Covenant with Noah
The background of the covenant with Noah is the flood. Setting aside the question of its extent, we can safely assert that, phenomenologically, that is, from the observer’s point of view, it threatened creation itself. In light of this threat, it is hardly surprising that in Genesis 8:21f. God promises Noah, first, that there will be no more curse on the ground, and, second, that creation will fulfil its function of production till the end of the world. In other words, Noah receives a guarantee of the preservation of creation that Adam never had. And because he has it, he can commit himself to it in faith (Heb. 11:7) and confidently undertake the repopulation and dominion of the earth (Gen. 8:17; 9:1-7, cf. 1:28. Note also the confidence- inspiring prophecy of Jeremiah, 27:11,17; 29:5,28, in face of the Babylonian catastrophe).
No Covenant with Creation
Why then is there no mention in Genesis of a covenant with either creation or creature, that is, Adam, man as God first created him? Let us take creation first. If it is true that a covenant involves an element of agreement no matter how unilaterally God acts in his sovereignty, it should hardly be cause for surprise that inanimate creation, in contrast with Israel at Sinai, is simply commanded (Gen. 1:3 passim, 1 K. 17:4; Job 26:12f.; 28:25-27; 36:32; 37:12,15; Ps. 33:6,9; 65:7; 78:23; 104:7-9; 105:31,34; 107:25,29; 135:5-7; 147:8f.,15-18; 148:5-10; Prov. 8:29; Isa. 5:6; 45:12; 48:13; Jon. 1:17; 4:6-8; Mt. 8:26; Lu. 8:25; 2 Cor. 4:6; Heb. 11:3, etc.). It is significant that despite man’s call to exercise dominion over the earth, God remains sovereign (Ps. 22:28; 47:2,7; 103:19) and can punish his erring people through nature (see e.g. Jer. 11:22; 18:21). But earthquakes, famine and rain or the lack of it are not always specifically associated with either curse or blessing (Gen. 12:10; 26:1; 41:46-57; 2 K. 8:1; 1 K. 8:36; Jer. 14:22; Lam. 3:37f.; Mark 13:8, though note Acts 16:26). Genesis 1:11, for example, is rightly referred to as a creation mandate, not a covenant. The same is true with regard to verses 26 and 28 which are correctly designated a cultural mandate. Creation as such exists simply because God has sovereignly determined it (Gen. 1:1; Lam. 3:37; Acts 17:24-7, cf. Rev. 4:11). If this is so, it immediately calls in question Dumbrell’s claim that a biblical doctrine of covenant cannot be merely anthropologically related (p.41).
Secondly, Adam was part of creation and in fact derived directly from it (Gen. 2:7). Initially, like a baby (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f., etc.), he had no knowledge of good and evil and, like his posterity, he had to be taught it (cf. Dt. 4:9; Ps. 78:5ff., etc.). If this is so, then a covenant involving even minimal mutuality could not be made with him. In the event Adam, like creation itself, is simply commanded (Gen. 1:28; 2:16f. I do not recall giving consent to my own birth, cf. Isa. 45:9-11! It is here that Horton (p.112) goes wrong. He complains that God’s sovereignty in creation can be talked of “in almost fatalistic terms, as if creation is simply an inert puppet that moves only when God specifically decrees it”. While he concedes sovereign fiats (“Let there be…!”), he then says that God enters into relations with man which permit the genuinely free acts of the human partner. The problem here is that by this time the human partner is not merely created but has undergone some development! (1*). On the other hand, even though the covenant made with Noah is a unilateral act of God which embraces man and animal alike, all creation in fact, it has, as Murray properly observes (p.14, cf. Dumbrell, p.28), a revelatory function made transparent in the sign of the rainbow (Gen. 9:8-17). This latter was meaningful only to man who possessed the intelligence necessary to make it so. And it was he who alone was able to respond to the covenant with compliance and co-operation in carrying out its provisions.
Jeremiah 31:35-37 and 33:19-26
It may be objected at this point that Jeremiah 33:19-26 clearly refer to a covenant with nature, and though the word is absent from Jeremiah 31:35-35, it is implied there too. What do we make of this? Surely in light of Genesis 8:22 where God’s covenant with Noah serves to guarantee the divine commitment to creation, the evident regularity and stability of creation now serve to undergird the permanence of God’s commitment to his people. Here creation, which Motyer, commenting on Isaiah 54:9f., claims is “the most permanent thing we know and lends itself to an apt comparison (cf. Je.31:35-37)” (cf. Ps. 89:36f.), is used to underscore the perpetuity of God’s covenant relationship with Israel (31:36f.), David and the Levitical priests (33:19ff.). Furthermore, Murray maintains that the covenant with the day and the night is synonymous with the ordinances of day and night which emphasize the immutability, stability and perpetuity of creation (p.12). On the assumption then that Jeremiah, like Isaiah, knew of the early chapters of Genesis and of the covenant with Noah, it is difficult not to conclude that he is deliberately using a transferred epithet (cf. the covenant with death in Isaiah 28:15,18) when (or if) he attributes covenant status to creation. Clearly, it effectively made his point. The regularity of nature, which contrasts sharply with the situation at the end of the age (Mark 13; 24-27, etc.), guaranteed for the moment God’s continuing commitment in covenant to his people. In other words, the covenant with the day and the night called attention to the fact that the forces of evil and chaos (cf. Jer. 4:23ff.; 25:29ff.; Isa. 24-27) and even apparent reversal (Gen. 6:13) were for the moment being kept sufficiently at bay to permit the advance of the divine purpose of human salvation.
Observant readers of the Bible may well be aware that intercession is usually based on covenant in both Testaments. For example, Jesus himself prays for believers who are in covenant with him (John 17; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25, etc.). But what is more immediately relevant to the case I am arguing is that in the OT Moses is conspicuously portrayed as an intercessor of superlative quality. In face of Israel’s sin in Exodus 32, when God suggests that he should make a new nation of Moses, Moses himself protests (v.10; Num. 14:12). He strenuously intercedes on behalf of his fellow Israelites and stands in the breach to prevent their destruction (Ps. 106:23, cf. Ezek. 22:30). What needs to be noted, however, is that he does this by reminding God of his covenant with Abraham (Ex. 32:13; Num. 14:13-19; Dt. 9:20,25-29). (The importance of remembering covenants is made evident in Gen. 8:1; 9:15; Ex. 2:24; 6:5; Lev. 26:42,45; Dt. 7:9, etc.). In strong contrast with Moses, and even Abraham himself who also intercedes (Gen. 18:22-33; 20:17, cf. Lot 19:17-23), Noah does no such thing. Rather, according to the author of Hebrews, as a herald of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), he condemns his world (Heb. 11:7). The fact is that, though all flesh, even creation itself, is threatened by the flood, Noah initially has no covenant to appeal to and no platform on which to base his intercession. A new beginning is made with him and his family who alone (cf. Gen. 7:1) are cleansed from their infantile filth (1 Pet. 3:21). The covenantal guarantee given by God to Noah is clearly of basic importance and emboldens him to undertake the dominion of his “new world” (Gen. 8:17; 9:1-7).
The Inherent Transience of Creation
If then it is true that there was never a covenant with either creation or with Adam, what conclusions are we to draw? Let us look again first at creation which we have already noted was simply commanded or sovereignly brought into being. We need to note too that in sharp contrast with the Creator himself, just as it has a beginning in time so it will have an end (cf. Heb. 7:3, 16, etc.). This point is underlined throughout the Bible (Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4; 40:6-8; 51:6; Rom. 1:23; 1 Cor. 7:31; Heb. 1:10-12; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; 1 John 2:15-17, etc.). Isaiah 54:9f., like Genesis 8:22 (cf. Dt. 11:21), pointedly draw attention to the limited duration of the covenant with Noah (cf. Hab. 3:17-19; Rom. 9:28f.) and contrasts it with the permanence of God’s steadfast love and covenant of peace (cf. Isa. 55:1-3). This reminds us strongly of the observations of Jesus regarding the impermanence of both the law and creation on the one hand (Mt. 5:18) and the transience of creation in contrast with the abiding of the word of God on the other (Mt. 24:35). Far from being eternal and perfect (complete) like its Creator, creation is (and remains), merely “good” (1 Tim. 4:3f.) like Eve’s fruit (Gen. 2:9; 3:6), that is, useful or suited to its purpose (cf. Dumbrell, p.11). And once its purpose, like that of the law (Heb. 10:9), has been fulfilled, it will be dispensed with, mission accomplished (Rev. 20:11; 21:1-5, etc.). In other words, as the flood in Genesis implied, the material creation was uncovenanted, lacked a guarantee, and was certainly never intended to last forever. God of express purpose subjected it to futility from the beginning but nonetheless in hope for the children of God (Rom. 8:18-25).
The Worship of Creation
It is a basic feature of the teaching of the Bible that creation is inherently transient (Gen. 1:1; Rev. 21:1) and “hand-made” (Isa. 45:12; Heb. 1:10, etc.) like the idols of the heathen (Lev. 26:1,30). As such, worship of it is constantly forbidden as idolatry. It is not simply a question of what man makes with his own fingers (Isa. 2:8) but of what God has made with his (Ps. 8:3; Dt. 4:19) including man himself (Isa. 2:22; Jer. 17:5, etc.). To worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator is the ultimate blasphemy (Ps. 106:20; Rom. 1:25). In light of this, the suggestion of a covenant with the physical creation is deeply suspect. Little wonder that Noah failed to intercede for his contemporaries who had given themselves completely over to perishable flesh (2 Pet. 2:8-10, cf. Heb. 12:16).
The Redemption of Creation
It is here that the notion of a creation covenant betrays its radically unbiblical nature. It is not at all surprising that those who posit such a covenant embrace the idea that the physical creation will be redeemed (see e.g. Dumbrell, pp.41,43, passim; Robertson, pp.93,95,122,213ff.;226,299; Riddlebarger, pp.137f., cf. Ladd, a premillennialist, p.632; Collins, p.275). Though restoration figures prominently in the OT, the truth of the Bible is that creation, as Genesis 1:1 when compared with Hebrews 7:3 implies, is temporal and impermanent by nature. As that much misunderstood passage Romans 8:18-25 surely teaches, God expressly subjected it to the futility associated with its inherent corruptibility from the beginning (cf. Ps. 89:47f.). As the author of Hebrews would doubtless have put it, it points to a “better hope” (7:19; 11:16, cf. 2 Cor. 5:5) which Paul says is invisible (Rom. 8:24f.), that is, to heaven itself, which is “not made by hand” (cf. Isa. 45:12; Heb. 1:10, etc.) and not of this creation (Heb. 9:11). To put the issue another way, the physical creation, which has both a beginning and an end, cannot be part of the eternal kingdom of God. Impermanent by nature like the fleshly body which is creation in miniature, it is headed for eventual destruction once it has served its purpose (Heb. 6:7f.; 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, cf. Luke 17:28-30). This suggests that the notion of a cosmic curse consequent on the sin of Adam requiring the eventual redemption and renewal of creation is an Augustinian illusion (pace Robertson, pp.122,214).
Many link the redemption of creation with the “restoration” of man. For example, Dumbrell maintains that the NT asserts strongly that the redemption of the creature must involve the redemption of the creation (p.41, cf. Robertson, p.215, etc.). Though this idea might find some plausibility in the relative materialism of the OT, it reads into the NT what is not there. As a child of creation formed from dust and symbolizing fleshly man (1 Cor. 15:45-49), Adam’s perpetuity was uncovenanted and without guarantee (cf. Job 10:8f.). As John suggests, man is unprofitable flesh (6:63) and as such needs to be born of God (John 1:13) or of the Spirit (3:3,5) if he is to survive into eternity. Flesh and blood by their very nature cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). As created “by hand” (Job 10:8; Ps. 119:73), like the earth from which it is taken (Isa. 45:12; 48:13), the flesh is inherently impermanent and perishable (Gen. 6:3; Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:18-20). Like Ishmael, who was the result of a fleshly union between Abraham and his slave woman Hagar and who personified the flesh, it lacks covenantal undergirding (cf. Gen. 17:18-21). While Paul, in order to make an important point can posit an anachronistic covenant allegory involving him, Ishmael, like Adam who epitomized the flesh (Gen. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:21f.,45-49), is ultimately cast out (Gal. 4:29f.), for only the spiritual son can continue in the house forever (John 8:35, cf. Heb. 3:6). And so it is with all who, like Lot’s wife (Luke 17:32, cf. Acts 7:39) and Esau (Heb. 12:16), commit themselves to mortal flesh and regard this ephemeral world as their portion (Ps. 17:14, cf. 1 John 2:15-17): they cannot inherit the eternal kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:21; 6:7f.; Eph. 5:5; 2 Pet. 2; Jude; Rev. 21:8; 22:15). In violent contrast, Jesus, while in the likeness of sinful flesh, conquered it (Rom. 8:3) and made it his slave even to the point of sacrificing it for his people (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 2:9; 4:15, cf. 1 Cor. 9:27) (2*). And though he rose from the grave in the flesh, since he did not personally earn the wages of death, he was transformed on his return to his Father to be glorified with the glory that he had before the creation of the world (John 17:5,24). As for us who trust in him, though like Adam (Gen. 3:19) we come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and undergo fleshly destruction and corruption (2 Cor. 5:1), we too are transformed (1 Cor. 15:52-55) and receive a glorious spiritual body like his (Phil. 3:21). This was God’s plan from the beginning and he has prepared us for it (2 Cor. 5:5).
The Redemption of the Body
It may be objected here that Paul, in opposition to Greek thought, clearly refers to the redemption of the body in Romans 8:23. He does indeed, but there is a world of difference between the redemption of the body and the redemption of the flesh. When he dies as a sinner, man loses his fleshly body forever. It suffers permanent corruption. Dust returns to dust and man is naked! In this situation, as we have just seen, it is replaced by a spiritual (1 Cor. 15:44,46) or heavenly (2 Cor. 5:1) body fit for eternity. And there is not the slightest suggestion in the NT that either the flesh or the creation from which it derives will be redeemed. There was no covenant with either.
The Covenant with Adam
What all this points to is the radically erroneous nature of the traditional covenant with Adam. The Augustinian dogmas of original immortality, perfection, righteousness and holiness followed by a fall into sin leading to a cosmic curse (3*) and the imputation of Adam’s sin to all his posterity are about as contrary to biblical theology as anything can be. If the Bible is our guide, we must pronounce the worldview of the great Manichee manifestly false. Just as the OT tells us that creation, in violent contrast with its Creator, is corruptible (Ps. 102:25-27), so it tells us that the flesh, which derives from it, is too (Ps. 103:14-18, cf. Rom. 1:23,25). And just as the NT teaches the natural impermanence and futility of creation (Mt. 6:19f.; 24:35; Rom. 8:18-25, cf. 1 Pet. 1:4), so it teaches the natural perishability and unprofitability of the flesh (John 6:63; Rom. 1:23; 2 Cor. 4:7-5:5; 1 Pet. 1:23-25).
The idea that Adam was the covenant head and representative of all his posterity, logically including Jesus (Luke 3:38), is simply not taught in the Bible (4*). It is clear that the so-called covenant of works was inspired by Augustine’s mistranslation and hence misinterpretation of Romans 5:12, not to mention his grossly false assessment of the nature of creation in Genesis 1. The truth is that there was never a catastrophic “Fall” followed by a cosmic curse in the traditional Augustinian sense. Adam was simply the first man who, like all parents, set a pattern which all his descendants, bar One, have followed (pace Art. 9 of the C of E; Calvin, pp.200f.). We all sin of our own accord even apart from parental influence (Ps. 106:6; Jer. 9:13f.; Dan. 9:5, etc.) and hence come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). In other words, first Eve’s and then Adam’s infantile but paradigmatic sins have been repeated throughout history and continue to be so today. Men and women can no more pass on their sins to their offspring than they can their faith and righteousness (Dt. 24:16; Ezek. 18, etc.), but the latter can and do repeat them (Ps. 106:6; Acts 7:51f.; 1 Pet. 1:18, etc.) as God intended (Rom. 11:32; Gal. 3:22) so that we might be justified by faith and not by the works of the law. After all, we are all created in Adam’s image (Gen. 5:1-3) and are all born of woman (Job 31:15) and are hence characterized by the same weakness of the flesh and the temptations of the devil (Mt. 26:41, cf. Rom. 7:7ff.). Even Christians have to be constantly warned not to indulge the flesh (Rom. 13:14, etc.). Since this is so, and all the more so under father Adam’s example and conditioning influence (Rom. 5:12), we have all failed to escape from our natural mortality and the corruption of creation by inheriting life according to the promise (Gen. 2:17). In this situation, all mankind has necessarily awaited a Saviour, a second Adam, who was able to fulfil the cultural mandate by putting everything under his feet (Ps. 8:5f.; Heb. 2:9, cf. Rom. 2:7). Since he was uniquely successful (Rev. 5:5), he was and is necessarily the only way into the presence of God (John 14:6). There is and can be no other (Acts 4:12), for he alone has abolished death and brought life and immortality (incorruption) to light in a world characterized by corruptibility and death (2 Tim. 1:10). He is the sole Saviour of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). In the words of hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander of “There is a Green Hill” fame, “He only could unlock the gate Of heaven, and let us in” (cf. Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18).
It has to be said with regret that both traditional covenant/federal and premillennial/ dispensational theology are governed not by the biblical but by the Augustinian worldview. Though they rail against Augustine’s opposition to chiliasm, premillennialists are nonetheless ruled by many of his manifestly unbiblical ideas, especially original sin and a universal curse on creation which therefore requires redemption. The very suggestion of a millennium lived out in mortal flesh on this corruptible earth is a gargantuan gaffe involving radical theological error and prompting insuperable problems (see e.g. Allis, pp.238ff.; Riddlebarger, pp.85 passim). It clearly lacks an adequate exegetical basis in the NT. (I take it for granted that the book of Revelation is a recapitulation of the teaching of the rest of the foundation laid by Christ and the apostles, Eph. 2:20, cf. Rev. 19:10. If it is not, then we have no sure way of determining its meaning.) Even Jesus in the flesh was visibly aging (John 8:57) and subject to the ravages of time (2 Cor. 4:16). It is only the power of his indestructible life that enables him to serve forever as our high priest, not physically on earth (Heb. 7:16,23; 8:4) but spiritually in heaven at God’s right hand (Heb. 1:3,13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).
The Western church’s obsession with sin is Augustinian, and it has blinded theologians to the essential impermanence and corruptibility of creation regardless of an Adamic fall and consequent curse. F.F.Bruce’s comment on Hebrews 7:15-17 (cf. 7:8) admirably portrays the biblical reality: “The law which established the Aaronic priesthood is called a ‘carnal commandment’ because it is ‘a system of earth-bound rules’ (NEB); it is concerned with the externalities of religion – the physical descent of the priests, a material shrine, animal sacrifices and so forth. Like everything else in the Levitical regime, the Aaronic order of priesthood was marked by transience; it stands thus in contrast to the permanence and effectiveness of the priestly office of Christ” (p.148). In a note on page 151 Bruce highlights the fragility of the old covenant which had a mediator but no surety. But Jesus, as surety, “guarantees the perpetual fulfillment of the covenant He mediates, on the manward side as well as on the Godward side.”
Creation and the law are of a piece as means to an end (cf. Rom. 10:4; Col. 1:16)(5*). They are defective by nature, intrinsically provisional, obsolescent and transient, regardless of sinful man’s inability to exercise dominion over the one or to fulfil the other. Neither can give life. This is underscored by Paul in Romans 8:18-25, 2 Corinthians 3 and Galatians 3:21, for example, and the author of Hebrews in 1:10-12, 12:27, cf. 10:34, 11:10,16, 13:14 and 7:18f., 8:7,13. But Jesus, the second Adam, has triumphed over both and rendered them ultimately redundant (Heb. 2:9; Mt. 5:17f.). As for Israel who broke the covenant (Heb. 8:9), he participates by faith in the Israel of God (Gal. 6:15).
To put the issue in a nutshell: just as there is no cosmic covenant and curse, so there is no cosmic redemption and renewal. (It should perhaps be borne in mind that Paul does not suggest that the heathen sinned against a creation covenant but against God himself, Rom. 1:18-32, and the law evident in creation, 2:1-16. After all, even the degenerate Canaanites cultivated the Promised Land prior to the arrival of the Israelites, cf. Dt. 6:10f.) So far as the Mosaic covenant was concerned, its blessings were always conditional (Dt. 30:15-20) like the promise made to Adam (Gen. 2:17.) The new (for us) heavens and earth, like Abraham’s heavenly country (Heb. 11:16) and the new Jerusalem who is our mother (Isa. 65:17f.; Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22; 13:14), have always existed and “shall remain” (Isa. 66:22). In the words of the author of Hebrews, what is inherently shakable must be removed so that what cannot be shaken may remain (Heb. 12:27, cf. 10:9).
As intimated above, God’s basic plan is to make earthly, that is, naturally mortal men and women of dust (cf. Ps. 78:39; 103:14) who are also created in his image his heavenly children (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49). For this to occur, they must escape the corruption of creation by meeting his condition which is to keep his commandments (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Rom. 2:7,10; 1 Pet. 1:7, etc., cf. Heb. 2:9). Since babies, like Adam before he received the commandment, do not know the law, they can neither keep it so as to attain to righteousness (Dt. 6:25; 1 John 3:7, etc.) nor break it so as to become sinners (Rom. 4:15). If they die, they do so naturally, succumbing to the futility that characterizes the whole creation. (Alternatively expressed, since they are flesh, cf. John 1:13, etc., they are outside the bounds of any covenant God has made. The flesh of infant man and animal alike succumbs to the law of a corruptible creation, cf. Eccl. 3:18-20, and has no moral significance.) For the rest of us who survive babyhood and inevitably break the commandments as they dawn on our minds (cf. Rom. 7:9f.), faith in Christ is paramount (John 3:17; 6:29; 12:47; 1 John 3:23; 4:14), for he alone representatively kept the law, inherited life, overcame the world (John 16:33), conquered death and was crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5,9). As Paul indicates elsewhere, if Christ is not raised even our faith is futile (1 Cor. 15:17), for there is no other way to attain to our divine destiny (cf. John 14:6) and gain access into the presence of God (Eph. 2:18; 3:11f.; Heb. 4:16; 7:19,25; 9:24; 1 Pet. 3:18).
1* Questioning the notion of a probationary command used in support of Adam’s freedom, Berkouwer (pp.345f.) strongly underscores the unilateral nature of the “command of life” (cf. Belgic Confession, Art. 14) given to Adam. He quotes Humbert to the effect that the command was absolute and unconditional. A wise parent does not give a young child a choice for the simple reason that it is “unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child” (Heb. 5:13, ESV)! I owe Berkouwer’s reference to Blocher, who alludes freely to a creational covenant, e.g. p.258, in a provocative essay calling for separate treatment in Always Reforming, ed. A.T.B.McGowan, Leicester, 2006.
2* Crucifixion was the penalty paid by slaves. Paul tells us that our flesh has been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24).
3* The curse on the ground is a subject in itself which I have dealt with elsewhere. However, it needs to be stressed that the earth becomes a desolation, first, wherever it lacks inhabitants and is not tilled (Gen. 2:5,15; 3:23; Isa. 6:11, etc., cf. Gen. 9:20) and, second, when it suffers abuse or neglect (Prov. 24:30ff.). On the other hand, it becomes a blessing when man, acting as God’s vice-regent, conducts himself as he should (Dt. 28:1-14; Ps. 65:10ff.; 67:6f.; 85:12; 128:1f.; Acts 14:17; 17:26f., etc.). Clearly, creation will by the grace of God fulfil its purpose regardless of sin (Gen. 8:21; Lu. 17:26-30).
4* H.Ridderbos correctly asserted that clear indications are lacking that Adam is termed the head of mankind in a representative sense (p.386).
5* Just as creation is guaranteed till the end (Gen. 8:22; Dt. 11:21; Luke 17:27), so is the law (Mt. 5:18). Jesus successfully exercised dominion over the one and fulfilled the other. By so doing he paved the way to glory for his people (Heb. 2:10, etc.). To posit an earthly millennium in order to demonstrate man’s dominion and triumph over the curse is failure to appreciate, and hence to undermine, the essence of Jesus’ victory. Jesus as second Adam and our appointed covenant representative has already overcome the world on our behalf (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9f., cf. 9:28).
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W.J.Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, Exeter, 1984.
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