Special From the Start
Video presentation of this lesson
Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:12
by Bob Burridge ©2011
It’s no wonder that so many people complain about depression. They are surrounded by so called “experts” telling them they are just an evolutionary accident. To make it worse, some say we humans are the bad accident that is destroying the rest of the world.
If we are just a cosmic curiosity that emerged by pure chance without purpose or meaning, then our immediate feelings and pleasures would be all that counts.
When people think they are just another animal let loose in a meaningless world to serve themselves, it is understandable that there is so much selfish violence when someone gets in the way. There could be no standard of morality that makes some things just plain wrong. There would be little to get excited about beyond what brings personal pleasure. The malignancy that grows from that is the life-numbing apathy that is so common today.
In such a world, there can be no accountability beyond what immediate benefits the individual. That makes people want others to do the hard work of managing their responsibilities. That idea is being promoted in our culture. It permeates education, some music, movies, games, economics, politics, social theory, personal relationships, and much of current trends in theology.
According to Atheist Jacques Monod, “… man at last knows that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty. The kingdom above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose.”
Albert Einstein may have been a good physicist, but he studied a universe he misunderstood. He proved that even great intellects can miss the obvious. He once said, “I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern without any superhuman authority behind it.”
This is what is believed by most of those who report what we think of as news, who make our movies, who write our magazines, construct video games, and make our music.
Humans are not just one little insignificant piece
in a vast evolving universe.
We are not just equal members of a created array of living things. The Bible tells us that we were created to be special agents for promoting the Creator’s glory. We humans are here in God’s world for a reason – each one of us.
Even before humanity fell into sin through Adam, God revealed something amazing. There is a covenant relationship between us and our Creator. It is important that we understand what we were made to be from the beginning, and what Jesus Christ restores us to be when he redeems us to be his people.
The 12th question of our Shorter Catechism teaches about how special humans are. It asks, “What special act of providence did God exercise towards man, in the estate wherein he was created?”
The answer it gives is very simple — but profound, “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 pain of death.”
A covenant is a very special type of promise.
The Bible talks a lot about covenants, but this i’s a foreign idea in our 21st century culture. It is not like the contracts and agreements we make between two equals parties.
The Old Testament in Hebrew uses the word berit (ברית) to describe these covenants. It was a common word back when God moved Moses to use it in his books of the Bible. It was a term used in the ancient Hittite suzerainty treaties of that day.
There were basic elements in every covenant. When a king conquered a city or province, he was thought to have the right to kill all his enemies. Instead of just destroying all the people, the wise king often subjugated them. It was not a negotiated deal he worked out with representatives of the conquered citizens. He sovereignly imposed a covenant making promises based upon conditions.
The King promised he would not kill them even though he had a right to do so. He also promised that his army would protect them. The people had to pledge loyalty to the king, and do all that the king commanded. Usually that meant serving in his military, and paying taxes. The penalty for violating the treaty was death. There was a formal ratification ceremony to legalize the deal. Animals were dismembered to show what would happen to violators of the covenant.
After explaining all this from historical records, Dr. O. Palmer Robertson, in his book The Christ of the Covenants, defined these ancient covenants as, “a bond in blood sovereignly administered.”
God used this same word to explain his special providence toward the humans he created. The bond God made with man is referred to in the Bible as a berit (ברית), a covenant. As the Sovereign Creator, before the fall into sin, God promised life to Adam. He would protect and sustain him and all the humans he represented. They were obligated to loyally obey God, and to served him as caretakers of his creation.
We know that there was that tree in Eden called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was there to test their obedience. The tree of life represented God’s promise to them. However, man’s duties were more broad than just not eating from the forbidden fruit. There were several Creation Ordinances God gave to Adam.
In Genesis 1:26-28, the Bible tells about the creation of man. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ ”
Humans were made to honor and to be loyal to their Creator as their only God. They were to work in the garden to maintain it and exercise dominion over it. They acted in God’s place as representative masters over all that was made.
Adam and his wife were to produce offspring to fill the earth. In chapter 2, Genesis adds that they were to be faithful to one another.
When he finished his creation, God limited man’s work in a very special way. He was to work faithfully for six days, then set aside one full day of ceasing from that labor. That wasn’t Adam’s day to take it easy and rest up. It was a day dedicated to the Lord. The rest it speaks of is a ceasing from the labor he performed on other days to provide for his own needs. This would be a day for honoring the Creator in his ceasing from the works of Creation. Man’s work on that day was to worship their Maker very specially.
In Exodus 20:8-11 God said the Sabbath Commandment was based upon this creation ordinance. There it says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
The Sabbath wasn’t something new instituted at Mt. Sinai for Israel. It was a day to remember the Creation Command God announced at the beginning. There was to be a day of ceasing from what was done on the other six days.
This Covenant of Life was a gracious covenant because it was totally undeserved. Adam was newly created. He hadn’t done anything to deserve God’s blessings. The idea that grace and law are at odds with one another is a horrible misunderstanding. Law and Grace are not opposites. They must go together. Law informs us about what honors God. It reveals our sin when we disobey it. Grace removes our guilt, and enables us to do what honors God by his redeeming love.
Since the promise was life, the Westminster Shorter Catechism calls it a Covenant of Life. Some call it the Covenant of Works because of the condition of obedience placed upon Adam. It has been suggested that we should call it the Covenant of Creation.
These Creation Ordinances were later summarized in the Ten Commandments. They were each assumed to continue by Jesus and the Apostles. By the power and love of our Risen Savior we are forgiven and redeemed to keep them today. God demanded perfect and personal obedience to all these basic ordinances. There is no provision for only sometimes being faithful to God. No one is able to obey that perfectly. It is only when we are clothed in the righteousness of our Savior that we are counted as worthy to stand in the presence of the Creator we have offended.
As long as the humans fully obeyed the covenant instituted at Creation, God gave them life. If they disobeyed, even in one small forbidden act, that life would be taken away. They would be subject to physical death, and would die spiritually. The result is total alienation from God for themselves and for all those who would descend from them.
God’s Covenant in Eden was what we call a Federal relationship.
Adam represented all the human race. We were all there, represented by him. The Creation Covenant, all it’s commandments together with the blessings and punishments, were made through Adam, but with all of us federally. As Paul put it in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
Adam’s first sin violated the covenant and made all he represented subject to death. In him we’re all fallen and deserve God’s wrath forever.
As the wise and Sovereign king, under no obligation to preserve any of the human race, God promised to redeem some from the fallen race to be his people, and for him to be their God.
This is what we call the Covenant of Grace. (We’ll take that up on more detail in a later study.) It is also referred to as a berit (ברית), a covenant, in the Bible. It was not deserved by us. It was sovereignly made with us at the cost of the shedding of the Savior’s blood.
Jesus the Messiah was the only one qualified to represent the fallen race other than Adam. Federally, as the representative of his people, the Savior died in their place.
The principle of federalism means that representatives act for those they represent. When our lawmakers pass a law, we all have to obey it. When congress declares war, we are all at war. if it is our personal choice or not. God tells us that Adam represented the whole human race. He also tells us that Jesus represented all of his people when he died and rose again.
It is interesting that people often object that it is unfair that we all fell in Adam. The fallen soul wants to be captain of its own fate. It rejects the biblical definition of God. It rebels at the idea that he has to pay for what Adam did.
The Creator built this principle into his creation. What he directly decrees cannot be wrong. He is the definition of what is right and wrong in the universe he made for his own purposes and glory. It is interesting that very few ever complain that it is unfair to be represented by Jesus. They don’t like it that we are all condemned by what Adam did, but few say it is not right to be redeemed by Jesus when he represented us on the Cross. He obeyed God’s law and died representing his people in the same type of federal relationship.
The key idea in this first covenant with man is the promise of life.
That is what God promised. In the end, that life is exactly what all his people will receive.
The path to that wonderful end is the adventure of human history. It is the continuing war between evil and good. It includes the attacks and calamities that come against us which are the fruits of that fall into sin. It is the victories God’s people enjoy when suffering is comforted, when disease is healed, when lonely people find love, when families are blessed with children, when lost hurting souls are redeemed by Christ, when humble believers gather together in humble worship, and when those rescued souls enjoy the beauty and wonder of the Creator’s Universe.
God’s Creation Covenant did not fail. It accomplished exactly all God intended it to. It set up the need that revealed his saving grace. It also shows that God made us special and that is what we ought to be. Those redeemed are to carry out the responsibilities he gave to Adam and to his posterity.
Enabled by the work of our Living Savior, Jesus Christ, the one who shed his blood in our place, we should be faithful managers of all God made. We are to use all God made for the Creator’s glory. We are to use it responsibly for our provisions. We should be faithful in our marriages, and in the raising of our children. We are to be hard workers doing our best in all we do, and doing it first of all for God’s glory. We should honor God’s Sabbath according to the rules he gave us in his word. We need to remain loyal to the one true God only, the one who made us.
The promises are still to be realized in full. One day, perhaps soon, maybe a long time in the distant future, the death imposed by Adam’s sin will be no more. We will enter an eternal and perfect place in the presence of our Maker. There he will sustain us in life, and we will joyfully and perfectly live for his glory. Forever he will be our God, and we who come through Christ will always be his people.
There will be no more tests, no more struggles or discomforts, no more war with evil, and no more waiting for victory to come some day. That day will come. It is at the end of the path we all struggle along every day. When we know the path, and the power and grace of the one who constructed it, we can enjoy the wait, find comfort even in the hard stretches of the journey.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)