Table of Contents
Part I – Prolegomena
Part II – What Man Ought to Believe Concerning God
- Section Two: Theology Proper
- Section Three: God’s Decrees
- Section Four: Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall
- Section Five: Christ the Mediator
- Section Six: The Work of the Spirit
- Section Seven: The Death of the Righteous and the Wicked
Part III – What Duty God Requires of Man
- Section Eight: Introduction to the Moral Law
- Section Nine: The First Table of the Moral Law (Part One)
- Section Ten: The First Table of the Moral Law (Part Two)
- Section Eleven: The Second Table of the Moral Law (Part One)
- Section Twelve: The Second Table of the Moral Law (Part Two)
- Section Thirteen: The Proper Response to Law and Gospel
Part VI – The Communication of God’s Grace
- Section Fourteen: The Ordinary Means of Grace
- Section Fifteen: Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
In writing this humble series, I don’t hope to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the great theologians who have already written on these subjects. What I do hope to accomplish is to make The Baptist Catechism a bit more accessible and clear for my generation. Having completed the third series of articles on the Catechism, you may now read it in its entirety below.
Q.10: What are the decrees of God?
A. The decrees of God are His eternal purpose according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.1
1Ephesians 1:4, 11; Romans 9:22-23; Isaiah 46:10; Lamentations 3:37
Moving along in our discussion of what man ought to believe concerning God, let us pivot a bit from what God is to what God does. Now, these two aspects of God should not be divorced from one another. Obviously, what God is will determine what God does. When we say that God is good, after all, we are claiming that God is the ultimate standard of all that is good. In order to properly define what good is requires that we do so in reference to what God is. It also requires that we do so in reference to what God does.
The first step in examining what God does is to look to His eternal decrees. In the decrees of God, we find the Source and Purpose for all that occurs, whether in the secret counsels of God or in the created order, from eternity to eternity. God Himself is the Source of everything that occurs. He is also the Purpose. The Westminster Assembly put it this way:
“The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass,” (The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.7).
William Collins, when penning The Baptist Catechism, changed nothing of substance in this answer. Why? This answer serves as one of the shortest, most succinct summaries of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty ever committed to the page. In it, we find that all that comes to pass is a result of God’s eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, and foreordained for the purpose of His own glory.
All that occurs, has occurred, or will occur is determined by the eternal will of God, comes from God, is guided and held together by God, and will ultimately culminate in His receiving all glory, honor, and power. In other words, the Source and Purpose of all things is God, God, God! “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36; NASB).
If you really stop to think about it, Romans 11:36, from a worldly perspective, is a somewhat counter-intuitive way to end the discussion Paul began way back in Romans 9. In Romans 9-11, Paul explains how the monergistic gospel he has been describing since chapter 1 is actually good news, since many of his kinsmen are not believing. He begins Romans 9 with these words:
“1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.,” (Rom. 9:1-5; NASB).
Many in Israel would not repent. As a result, they were broken off, as branches are broken off from a tree. Paul refers to this breaking off as a partial hardening. “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in,” (Rom. 11:25; NASB). How were many of Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh coming to be hardened? They were hardened according to the sovereign will of God, according to Romans 9. God demonstrates His mercy upon whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills (9:14-18).
Paul knew this was a hard pill for his readers to swallow. It was a hard pill for him to swallow. However, it was the truth, and Christians are those who ultimately must come to the place where they affirm with Paul: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36; NASB).
Notice how, in the answer given in the catechism, God’s purpose is eternal. As we have already mentioned, God is immutable; He does not change. God has never changed His mind on a matter. What He decreed in eternity past remains unchanged to this day. Thus, the apostle Paul writes: “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him,” (Eph. 1:4a; NASB). If God can change His mind, what would it matter who He chose to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world? He could just as easily choose differently tomorrow, if indeed He is unstable in His decrees.
However, we know that He is not unstable. Whatsoever He has decreed will surely come to pass. It is on this truth that our hope in an eternal inheritance rests, for Paul also writes: “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,” (Ephesians 1:11; NASB). But, if God’s will is mutable, might our inheritance be given to another? Why should we hold to it with any surety? On the contrary, Louis Berkhof writes of God:
“He is not deficient in knowledge, veracity, or power. Therefore, He need not change His decree because of a mistake of ignorance, nor because of inability to carry it out. And He will not change it, because He is the immutable God and because He sis faithful and true,” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids. 1941, pg. 105).
God’s sovereignty and immutability in His decrees, then, are a great comfort to us. They ensure for us all of the great promises of God. Our comfort is not the ultimate purpose of the doctrine, though. How foolish, arbitrary, overly-romantic, and trite it would be if God had determined to mold His determinative faculties around something as ultimately insignificant as human feelings. No. God’s created order does not revolve around us: our wills, our feelings, our significance, our dignity, and our glory. Rather, it is all for His glory!
It is ultimately God’s glory that hinges on His purposes being established, not ours. It is ultimately His divine, eternal reputation that is at stake. Thus, He is the One whose “good pleasure” is paramount:
“Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’,” (Isaiah 46:10; NASB).
We object that God’s good pleasure must make sense to us. We must be able to wrap our finite, fickle minds around His sovereign, eternal decrees, or He is a monster! “19You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ 20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” (Rom. 9:19-20; NASB). Just as the clay does not have a right to demand to know the secret counsels of the potter, neither do we have the right to demand from God His secret decrees.
We do not get to determine the definition of good, and then demand that God fit into that mold. Rather, we determine what is good by a proper examination of God. Hence the age old problem of questioning authority. In the military, it is a soldier’s duty to disobey unlawful orders, because the law is above command in rank. In theology, we never have right disobey an order of God, because He is the law.
We have no right to question the goodness or the justice of God, because He is the standard of goodness and justice. To lay a charge against Him is to speak out of sheer ignorance. Though one may observe several instances where Lord Tennyson’s often quoted The Charge of the Light Brigade is flawed in relation to subordination in the military, it holds true nonetheless in Christian theology.
“Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.”
Q.11: How doth God execute His decrees?
A. God executeth His decrees in the works of creation and providence.
Under the headings of creation and providence, God accomplishes all of His good purposes. Thereby, He creates, sustains, and directs all things toward His own desired, good, and glorious ends. Nothing that comes into existence does so without God’s decree. Likewise, nothing that comes to pass does so without God’s decree. God is the prime Actor in all of creation and is necessary for its continued existence.
Q.12: What is the work of Creation?
A. The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good.1
1Genesis 1; Hebrews 11:3
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” (Gen. 1:1; NASB; cf. the rest of Gen. 1).
The Latin term ex nihilo can be somewhat misleading. The term means out of nothing, and it is used to assert just that: that God made the whole of creation out of nothing. Some may take this assertion a bit further and claim that, before God created all things, nothing existed. Of course, this could only be understood in terms of created things. Thus, it is important for us to clarify that no created thing existed, no temporal thing existed, no material thing existed. Put more plainly, before God created the cosmos (the created order), only God existed. According to A.A. Hodge:
“In the beginning of time God first, by a word of command, brought into being all the material elements of which the universe exists,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR. 2004, pg. 21).
This is a proper understanding of the testimony of the earliest portions of Scripture. There is no before God; God has always existed. There is only before the created order. Before all things were created, there was the one, triune, divine Being who is, and who was, and who ever will be. Hence, when we say that God created all things ex nihilo, we do not mean that nothing proceeded all things.
Taken in the negative, another idea represented in the notion of ex nihilo creation is the fact that God did not use pre-existing materials to make the world. Rather, all that is material was brought into existence from a purely immaterial non-existence. That which was not, by the power of God’s Word, became so. In the material sense, nothing preceded everything. These are important concepts for us to grasp, because there are many false notions of the relationship between God and all things.
The ancient Greeks taught, as Hindus still teach, that matter has always existed. In fact, ancient Greeks like Plato taught that even moral concepts such as good and evil transcended the gods. For Plato, both moral concepts and the material world is as eternal as the gods. Also, given the choice between the gods arbitrarily creating their own morality or a co-eternal morality external to the gods being imposed even on the gods themselves, Plato chooses the latter. As Christians, we affirm that God created all material things. We also affirm that God neither created nor is subject to a moral code outside of Himself. Rather, morality is a reflection of God’s eternal and immutable goodness and perfection.
By His Word
“1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light,” (Gen. 1:1-3; NASB).
It has well been noted that the first three verses of the Bible follow a Trinitarian pattern. The first verse is obviously a reference to our Father in heaven. The second verse makes explicit mention of the Spirit of God. Where, though is there any mention of the second Person of the Trinity: the Son? In order to answer this question, let us consider the one verse in the Bible that most parallels Genesis 1:1-3.
“1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being,” (John 1:1-3; NASB).
We must note first that the apostle John begins his Gospel with precisely the same wording as the Septuagint (LXX; an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament used in the first century): “Ἐν ἀρχῇ.” John, in writing in this way, was clearly drawing a parallel between his gospel of the new creation and the account of creation in Genesis 1.
First, John tells his readers, “In the beginning was the Word,” (John 1:1a; NASB), clearly signifying the God who speaks. Second, he goes on to say that this Word was God putting Him on par with the Father in glory, authority, and essence. Third, he tells us that He was in the beginning with the Father, drawing our attention to the eternal, intra-Trinitarian oneness and fellowship existing within the Godhead. Fourth, and most important for our discussion today, he writes that all things came into existence through the Word, and nothing came into being apart from Him.
All of this discussion of the Word of God begs the question, who is this Word of God? John answers this question in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; NKJV). He further clarifies in verse 18 who this only begotten of the Father is: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him,” (NKJV; emphasis added; other manuscripts read: “the only begotten God”). The Word of God of which John writes is the only begotten of the Father, the very Son of God Himself, the only begotten God.
Thus, when God spoke, through the divine agency of the Son of God, all things sprang into existence. In fact, nothing that was created was created apart from the Word of God. This is an important assertion to highlight when speaking with Unitarians like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who assert that Christ was created. When confronted with the suggestion that Christ was created, we must ask how John could assert that nothing that was created was created apart from His agency. He could not have been created through Himself, could He? John obviously belabors this point so that there would be no question of Christ’s eternality. The Word is distinct from all creation, just as the Father and the Spirit are distinct from all created things.
Where then do we see the second Person of the Trinity in Genesis 1:1-3? In verse three: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (NASB; emphasis added). When God spoke the world into creation, He spoke through the agency of His Word, His eternally begotten Son.
“So the evening and the morning were the first day. . . And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. . . So the evening and the morning were the third day. . . So the evening and the morning were the fourth day. . . So the evening and the morning were the fifth day. . . Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day,” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 25, 31; NKJV).
In the span of six days, God created all things that exist. This is a hotly debated issue in Christianity today, but the testimony of Scripture is plain. All things that were created were created in the span of six ordinary days comprised of both one evening and one morning. Whether these evenings and mornings put together comprised a 24, 23, or 25 hour day, the Bible does not say, but there is no reason to assume that each evening and morning spanned hundreds, thousands, and perhaps even millions of years.
Sam Waldron explains: “To state matters succinctly, the only sound interpretation of the Bible is the one which understands it to teach that God did, indeed, make the world in a literal work week,” (Waldron, An Exposition of the 1689 London Baptist Confession. Evangelical Press, Darlington, Eng. 2005, pg. 76). What Waldron means by literal is that the meaning of the text is to be accepted in its plainest sense. When Scripture says “evening and morning,” it clearly means to designate an ordinary day of the week.
Some have suggested that the days of creation are unimportant and that our focus really should be on God’s creative power and the beauty and perfection of His creation. Certainly they are right in the latter assertion. We truly ought to place a primary focus on the beauty and perfection of God’s creation. Furthermore, the focus of modernity on the materialistic, naturalistic science of creation is a faulty starting point, to be sure. However, this does not mean there is no significance behind God’s choosing to create the world in six ordinary days.
Certainly, were it God’s pleasure to do so, He could have created all things in the span of six minutes or six millennia. Instead, He ordained that the world should be created in six days. In doing so, He set the example for mankind of a six day work-week to be followed by a full day of covenant rest in Him.
“He ‘rested the seventh day;’ as if the Lord should say, Will you not follow me as a patter? Having finished all my works of creation, I rested the seventh day; so having done all your secular work on the six days, you should now cease from the labour of your calling, and dedicate the seventh day to me, as a day of holy rest,” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments. Scriptura Press, New York City. 2015, 2.4 ).
In short, God did not create the world in order to satisfy all of our naturalistic, materialistic inquiries. He did not create the world in the span of six days in order to help us “butter up” to the modern scientific community or to satisfy all of our vexations brought on by the Star Light theory and other such quandaries. He did, however, create all things in the span of six days. He did so as a model for us so that we might follow it.
“Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day,” (Gen. 1:31; NKJV).
When God created all things, He created them good: the lights of the day and of the night, the land, the seas, the animals, the plants, the planets, the moon, the angels, and all other things whatsoever He created. There is nothing that God created that He did not in turn look upon and say, “This is good.” However, it was only after God completed one particular creation that He finally looked upon all that He had made and said, “Very good!” This particular creation was mankind.
Mankind is alone in all of creation in that we were made in the image of God. Insofar as we are created in His image, we are the pinnacle of all of His creation. As we will see in the answer to question 13, God’s image is not the only mark of favor He bestowed upon us.
Alfred Hitchcock is accredited with having said, “Self-plagiarism is style.” While my views have changed since writing the paper “Trinitarian Foundations for Christian Education,” I have largely used its material in this next section of our Studies in The Baptist Catechism series. As you can observe, the sections taken from the paper have been altered to reflect a change in views. I no longer take the ESS view of the Trinity in marking the unity and diversity of man, but rather point to the economic Trinity.
Q.13: How did God create man?
A. God created man, male and female, after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.1
1Genesis 1:26-28; Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24
Having examined what the Bible teaches us about creation generally, let us now turn our gaze to the pinnacle of God’s creation: mankind. Mankind is unique in that we were created in God’s image. Now, before we say anything else about what it means that we’re created in God’s image, let us first note the universality of it. The Bible does not teach that some men are created in God’s image. It does not say that some men are more created in God’s image than others. Rather, we read: “So God created man in His own image,” (Genesis 1:27a).
The Dignity of God’s Image
One might argue that the fall of man into sin changed things. Certainly the image of God in us has been marred. However, there still remains a divine image on all men, which brings with it a great dignity. Notice in Genesis 9 that, after the fall, after the murder of Abel, and even after the flood, men are still to be treated with dignity by virtue of the fact that they have been made in the image of God.
“6Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
He made man.
7And as for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Bring forth abundantly in the earth
And multiply in it,” (vv. 6-7; NKJV).
The Bible then teaches that all men without exception, as a consequence of having been created in the image of God, have a certain dignity bestowed upon them. This dignity persists beyond the fall of man into sin. As a result, Christianity does not make light of crimes like murder. In fact, God Himself has commanded that all men who destroy a life created in God’s image are to be put to death for the crime they have committed against God Himself.
It could be said that, in the museum of God’s grand creation, He has one gallery in particular upon which He has bestowed favor. This gallery is full of self-portraits. They are not the Artist Himself, but they bear His image and are to be honored with much the same care with which we would honor His very Person. When harm is done to one of His images, it is as though an attack has been made on His very Person.
“1Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor,” (Romans 13:1-7; NASB).
Therefore, there is no debate in Scripture over the issue of capital punishment. When a man kills one or more human beings, given the proper amount of proof and the absence of any doubt, God’s image has been destroyed. A life has been taken; the life-taker’s life shall likewise be taken. A nation that treats this duty with contempt treats God’s very image, and thus God Himself, with contempt.
Recently, a presidential candidate came under fire for saying that women who get abortions should be subject to penalties under law, to include imprisonment. Sadly, it was not the Pro-Choice movement that came out against the politician under question; it was the Pro-Life movement that came out and loudly denounced the statement as not representative of the Pro-Life movement. As a result, the politician retracted his statement.
Let us follow this logic, though. If abortion is murder (the destruction of the very image of God), it should be treated as murder by the governing authorities. Now, consider any other situation where a woman might pay someone to murder another human being. Let us take it even further, as the Pro-Choice movement often does, and say that the woman was raped or that she was the victim of incest. Should she have the right, under law, to pay a hitman to surgically dismember the perpetrator?
Now, perhaps we could make the case that such people should receive capital punishment from the government. That is different, though, then a woman hiring someone to murder the individual. Hiring a hitman to kill another human being, for any reason, is the same as committing the murder yourself. Why then is it any different for a woman to hire a hitman to murder the human being in her womb?
“13For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
14I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
15My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them,” (Ps. 139:13-16; NASB).
Dealing with Differences
Murder is not the only crime against God’s image, though. Racism has historically taught, from a Darwinian foundation, that man has evolved from lower lifeforms and some “races” are less evolved than others. Akin to racism is also the sin of ethnic favoritism. James condemns favoritism in James 2:
“1My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” (Jas. 2:1-7; NASB).
What is true of partiality in general is true also of ethnic partiality. We are not to hold our faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of ethnic partiality. Ethnic partiality can be practiced by people of any color and can be used to treat people of other races as either inferior or less deserving of one’s respect. We must recognize that all human beings deserve a certain amount of respect merely out of virtue of the fact that they are created in God’s image. We would not look at a self-portrait of God and curse it. Why then do we so easily curse men, who are the very image of God? To do so is sinful. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors,” (Jas. 2:9; NASB).
The disabled, the poor, the foreigner, the sick, the aged—all men are created in the image of God. Thus, we are called to treat all men with dignity and respect. If we are not used to a certain condition of man, it is understandable to have an involuntary reaction when we first meet one. The question is whether or not we take the necessary strides to accommodate for one another’s differences.
A man who has been poor his whole life is not naturally going to be comfortable in the presence of wealthy people, nor is a man who has never been to a homeless shelter going to immediately feel at home serving in a soup kitchen. A black man who grew up in a neighborhood has only known white people who are in positions of authority, like cops, teachers, etc., might have a great deal of discomfort to overcome when attending a predominantly white church. The same is true for white people who have never spent much time around non-whites suddenly attending a Korean church, a predominantly Hispanic church, or a black church.
There is discomfort to overcome when one begins to work with people with disabilities, or in a nursing home, or in hospice care. There is great difference among God’s people, but we are all created in the image of God. Though we may not do it perfectly or instinctively, we must each strive to accommodate for our differences.
Unity and Diversity
God did not merely create mankind with a common dignity; He also created us with personal uniqueness and value. Nowhere is this difference so immediately apparent than in our examination of unity and diversity. Men and women are both created in God’s image with the same nature and value, but men and women are also created unique in our roles and relationships. In the same way, the church was created to be one body, but each member of the body was created unique in our roles and relationships. The Bible teaches us that this uniqueness and diversity comes to all mankind as a result of having been made in the image of the economic Trinity.
In 1Corinthians 11, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth and admonishing them to restore proper order in the church. In specifically addressing the issue of submission and headship among men and their wives, Paul draws on some rather gripping imagery. Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (vs. 3). Paul’s word choice draws to mind a parallel between the complementary roles within the economic Trinity and the complementary roles God has instituted to exist within marriage.
This equality of nature and subordination of roles is what lies at the foundation of the biblical, complementarian view of marriage. The head of Jesus is God. Paul is not suggesting that the Messiah is of a lesser essence or value than God; He is of the same essence and nature in totality. Rather, it was determined in eternity past that Christ would willingly submit Himself to the Father in His incarnation and become fully obedient to Him, even to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). In like manner, women are called to submit to their husbands, not as a sign of inequality in essence or nature, but out of progressive conformity to the image of Christ (1Pet. 2:21-3:2).
Men and women do not arrive at the institution of marriage as two natural, complete wholes, both insisting that the integrity of their individual natures be given superiority over the union. Rather, they are united in essence and in goal. Similarly, men and women are not to see one another, as the egalitarians suggest, as having uniformity in function. They both offer unique and glorious contributions to the relationship. In their unique roles, they image forth the glory of the subordinate nature of the Godhead. As Gordon Clark writes:
“The hierarchy here is God, Christ, man, and woman. God and the Messiah are equally divine, but there is a subordination of function; so too, man and woman are spiritually equal, but one ranks above another in function,” (Clark, First Corinthians: A Contemporary Commentary. Nutley, N.J., P&R Publishing Co. 1975, 169).
The foundation of the principle of headship in marriage is the principle of headship within the economic Trinity. Paul states this emphatically so that in drawing agreement from his readers on the issue of divine, redemptive headship, they would be forced likewise to agree with him on the issue of marital headship (Charles Hodge, First & Second Corinthians. Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth Trust. 1978, 206). Furthermore, in making his case, Paul demonstrates that the principle of marital headship is first and foremost a creation ordinance, not merely an ordinance for the church (1Cor. 11:7-9, 12; see Clark, First Corinthians, pg. 169). As descendants of Adam and Eve, those who violate the principle of marital headship are guilty before God, regardless of their relationship to the church. They are guilty of marring the image of the triune God, which God Himself has placed within them (Gen. 1:26-27).
Churches also are to have within them certain structures that are put in place to image forth the Trinitarian nature of their loving God. Such structures are fitting insofar as the churches have been redeemed and assembled through the cooperative work of each Person of the Trinity. “The Lord Jesus calls out of the world unto Himself, through the ministry of His Word, by His Spirit, those that are given unto Him by His Father” (The Baptist Confession, 26.5). Based upon this understanding of the redemptive work of their triune God, the apostle Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to image forth Trinitarian uniqueness and unity.
After having shown each Person of the Trinity at work in each of the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul opens the second half of Ephesians by making mention of them as well. He reminds the church at Ephesus that the godly character and Christian unity to which they have been called (vv. 1-3) are rooted in the identity they enjoy as worshippers of one Spirit (vs. 4), one Lord (vs. 5), and one God and Father of all “who is over all and through all and in all” (vs. 6). In vv. 7-16, Paul commences to paint a word picture of a body (vv. 4, 12-16) in which each member is uniquely gifted (vs. 7) and plays a unique role (vs. 16). Yet, each member is part of the same body which is being built up into one mature man (vv. 11-14) the head of whom is Christ Himself (vs. 15).
William Hendriksen insists, “It is exactly unity that is promoted when all become busily engaged in the affairs of the church and when each member eagerly renders service for which the Lord has equipped him,” (William Hendriksen, Ephesians, New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House. 1995, pg. 199). This process in no way diminishes the unique and valuable identity of the persons involved. Rather, they each find their true value and identity as they use their unique gifts in contribution to the overall work of the body of Christ. “Christ, the head, unifies the body and causes it to grow, in which process every member has some part,” (Gordon Clark, Ephesians. Jefferson, MD., Trinity Foundation. 1985, pg. 144).
In Ephesians 1:1-4:16, Paul provides the church with some of the most vivid imagery of the economic Trinity by merely holding up a mirror. He demonstrates how, when every person in a local church is functioning properly, they will image forth the triune God who has called them into this glorious communion. Charles Hodge explains: “There are many passages to which the doctrine of the Trinity gives a sacred rhythm, though the doctrine itself is not directly asserted. It is so here. There is one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father. The unity of the church is founded on this doctrine” (Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians. New York, R. Carter. 1856, pg. 209).
This exposition can be taken a bit further, though. The doctrine of the Trinity not only provides churches with a foundation for their unity, but it also provides individuals within those churches with a foundation for their dignity. It is with the foundational understanding that each Person in the Trinity supplies a unique contribution to the work of redemption that Christians also come to understand that the whole body of Christ is “being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part” (vs. 16a). “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (1Cor. 12:17).
Made in the Image of a Triune God
The foundation for this doctrine does not originate with Paul, though; it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When God created man, He created him in His very own image:
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).
Many have warned against making an instant leap from the plural personal pronouns God uses in reference to Himself in this passage to an assertion of Trinitarian theology. It certainly is not enough to make a full argument for the Trinitarian nature of God. However, it is quite worth noting how quickly the passage goes from saying, “Let Us make man in Our image,” to saying, “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Finally, he writes: “He created him (singular); male and female He created them (plural).” Man was created unique and man was created to be united in fellowship with others.
Man was never created to be an island unto himself. In fact, before God created woman, He saw fit to vocalize this truth: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and after she was created, Adam saw fit to vocalize this truth: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). The woman was a unique, distinct person while at once being on flesh with her husband. As such, man images forth the Triune God who created him; man and woman image forth the Triune God who created them (1Cor. 11:7, 12).
Rational and Righteous
Another major aspect of what it means to have been created in the image of God is that we were created “in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.” These three ideas interplay with one another. Obviously, righteousness assumes holiness and vice versa. Knowledge, when referring to the original estate of man, also assumes righteousness and holiness.
Adam was not created a super intelligent being. He was not created with all knowledge. As we said earlier in our study, were we to have all knowledge, we would be God. Adam did not have all knowledge, but he did have pure knowledge. That is to say that the knowledge that he had was pure, undefiled, and God-glorifying.
We do not often think of knowledge as having an ethical element to it. Knowledge is seen, especially in modernity, as a rather neutral endeavor. We often think, “I may be wrong about this or that, but what does it ultimately matter?” It ultimately matters because, if we are to “think God’s thoughts after Him,”—if we are to reason biblically about things—we must think correctly about things. We are often so consumed with the mere acquisition of knowledge that we do not take the time to apply to it understanding and wisdom. This is the process by which the Bible would have us acquire knowledge.
“9For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God,” (Col. 1:9-10; NASB; cf. Prov. 2:6; 9:10).
According to Paul, the way that we take in knowledge is to first acquire it, then to apply to it understanding and wisdom and, when this is done appropriately, we will bear fruit in every good work and increase all the more in knowledge. Adam was created a learning being. He did not have knowledge of all things (e.g. good and evil; see Gen. 3:4-7), but what he did have was pure and rightly coupled with understanding and wisdom.
We know that rational thinking is godly, because it is part of the very image of God. Paul understood this rational element of God’s image when he wrote: “and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him,” (Col. 3:10; NASB). When in the garden, Adam reasoned rationally. After the fall, men ceased to think the thoughts of God after him; our very thinking was marred. Now that we are in Christ, we are being renewed in this aspect of God’s image.
Righteousness and Holiness
That man was created upright is undisputed. “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices,” (Eccl. 7:29; NASB). Adam and Eve were originally created holy and happy. These two qualities of their first estate were intrinsically intertwined such that, when they sinned, they fell into a new estate of sin and misery, an estate that persists to this day.
Adam was able to sin and not to sin. Since the fall mankind is not able not to sin. Since Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, Christians are freed from slavery to sin, but not its presence and influence. In glory, we will be free from all aspects of sin: its power, its abiding influence, and even its very presence. These are what have come to be known as the four estates of man.
Though Adam was created in God’s image, holy and happy, we have all now fallen from that glorious estate. That is not our final end, though. As Christians, we are called and enabled to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth,” (Eph. 4:24; NASB). We are daily being renewed according to the image of God the Son (Rom. 8:29). According to Beeke and Jones, “[John Owen] says that while ‘image’ denoted man’s original faculties properly oriented toward God, likeness denoted righteousness and the ability to respond to God in obedience,” (Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, pp. 670-671). In like manner, being made over (renewed) in His image means we have the righteousness of Christ and the enabling of the Spirit to respond to God in obedience.
Finally, the image of God means that we have been granted dominion over the whole earth. The world was created for our benefit, and man was commanded to subdue it. Among other things, this means that natural resources, vegetation, the animals, and all of the other elements of the world around us could rightly have been harnessed by man in his original state to be used for his own benefit. Since the fall, even the creation has been distorted.
“18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now,” (Rom. 8:18-22; NASB).
There is a sense in which creation itself has an innate understanding of the proper order of things. The fall of man essentially removed man from his rightful throne. Jesus refers to Satan as “the ruler of this world,” (John 12:31; 16:11). Paul refers to him as “the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience,” (Eph. 2:2).
Thankfully, though, we read that we are no longer under his rule. We have been freed from his influence through the great love and mercy of God (Eph. 2:4ff). Furthermore, we read that the ruler of this world has already been judged as a result of the sending of the Spirit after Christ’s ascension (John 12:31; 16:11). The Godman, Jesus Christ, has reestablished man’s reign through His resurrection (Col. 2:15; cf. Heb. 2:9-18). As a result, we now understand our position of one of ruling and reigning with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:4-6).
Q.14: What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are His most holy,1 wise,2 and powerful preserving3 and governing of all His creatures, and all their actions.4
2Psalm 104:24; Isaiah 28:29
3Hebrews 1:3; Psalm 103:19
One way of considering the subject of God’s decrees is to ask the question: How does God relate to every created thing? Of course, we just spent several questions considering the fact that God relates to every created thing as its Creator. There is a great Creator / creature distinction embedded in the design of all things. However, this notion of God as Creator in relation to all things only addresses origins and design. The natural follow-up question remains: How does God still relate to every created thing? This will be the subject of our study today.
The Baptist Catechism breaks up this discussion into two sections. Just as the catechism started with a discussion of creation in general and then narrowed the focus to the creation of man, it also starts with a discussion of providence in general and then narrows the focus to God’s providential dealings with man. This week, we will simply be considering providence in general.
The Sovereign God
Another way to consider God’s decree is by considering His sovereignty. In God’s sovereignty, He created all things and, thereby, established His dominion over them. In love, He uniquely created man, stamping him with His very image. Likewise, God continues to exercise His sovereignty by His great works of providence in all created things. His special act of providence toward man is one of life, love, and redemption.
“The Calvinist finds peace in the conviction that behind God’s all-encompassing providence is the full acquiescence of the triune God. The sovereign grace and love that went to Calvary has the whole world in its hands. God’s fatherly sovereignty in Christ is the essence of who God is,” (Beeke, Living for God’s Glory, pg. 40).
All things that come to pass, even the murder of the only perfect Man to ever live, are part of God’s great decree. He not only allows the evil and calamitous events of our world to come to pass. He decreed that they would and, in His goodness, He has given them purpose and meaning that we could never fully grasp.
The Supernatural God
Some assume that God’s relationship to the current state of created things is like a watch on a beach. God molded and shaped it. He fastened it all together. He even put his mark on the back of it so that people could know who made it. Then he wound it up, set it down, and walked away. This view of God and His relationship to all created things is a modern, naturalistic perversion of who God is and how He relates to the cosmos.
There is no such thing as a natural world, if we are to define natural the same way that Darwin and his predecessors have. There is nothing that just is or just does. When we say that man knows who God is because the whole of creation tells of His glory, we do not merely mean that God designed the cosmos so that men seeking for Him might discover clues in it. God does not leave the reception of His glory to the finite, fallen faculties of man to be discerned from mere clues. God is always, ever acting in every atom of His creation. If a stone attests to the glory of God and a man recognizes the glory to which it attests, God has both acted through the stone and through the man to case the attestation and the recognition. God both speaks and opens the ears of those to whom He speaks.
The Immanent God
Whatsoever comes to pass in this world then is God acting in this world. God has determined whatsoever comes to pass, and He is working it all toward His entirely holy will. “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds,” (Ps. 145:17; NASB). Even that which is evil, though God ordains from eternity past that it shall come to pass, though men mean it for evil God means it for good (Gen. 50:20). The most evil deed ever committed, the murder of Christ, was used of God to bring about the greatest good ever wrought.
“Everything depends on God as the primary cause both of its substance and circumstances (Isa. 45:7; Lam. 3:37-38). God often works through means, though He does not need those means. His providence both preserves all things (Ps. 104:19-20; Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3) and governs all things (Ps. 29:10; Gen. 50:20),” (Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, pg. 163).
The All Wise and Holy God
How does God ensure that all of His acts are holy and good? God has infinite, eternal wisdom. In all of His works, His unsurpassed wisdom is on display. In love and mercy, He has ordained that we should be able to ascertain some of His great wisdom. We can fathom some of the wisdom behind His choices, but the whole of His counsel is to us entirely inscrutable (Rom. 11:33).
“This also comes from the Lord of hosts,
Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great,” (Isa. 28:29; NASB).
In His wisdom and holiness, God has decreed that whatever comes to pass, regardless of any appearance of evil in its design, is nevertheless designed to accomplish God’s perfect and good design. The Baptist Confession states this doctrine most succinctly:
“The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin,” (The Baptist Confession, 5.4).
The All Powerful God
God’s providence is not only holy and wise. His meticulous and purposeful government of all things also required a third trait. God’s providence is girded not just with holiness and wisdom but also with infinite power. God is infinitely capable of accomplishing all He has ordained will come to pass.
As we saw in our study of creation, by His mere word, all things sprang into existence. Likewise, by the word of His power, all things are upheld. Indeed, it is through the Person of the Son that God has determined to hold all things together:
“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Heb. 1:3; NASB).
God rules all of His creation with absolute sovereignty. He is infinitely capable in His unsearchable wisdom and absolute holiness. In His absolute sovereignty, He governs both His creatures and all of their actions. “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all,” (Psalm 103:19; NASB). There is nothing that occurs within the whole of creation apart from the decree of God. Every bird and every hair that falls to the ground does so only how and when it has been eternally determined by the God of glory (Mt. 10:29-31).
Q.15: What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?
A. When God 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.1
1Galatians 3:12; Genesis 2:17
“COVENANT THEOLOGY, SIMPLY STATED, is the view of God and redemption that interprets the Holy Scriptures by way of covenants,” (Earl Blackburn, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, pg. 17).
What we see in Genesis 2 is not only an account of the creation of Adam and Eve. In the garden, God and man entered into a covenant. God bestowed certain benefits upon Adam; He gave him life and all the provisions he needed to sustain life in the garden. He created man sinless and in a state of joy and fellowship. Moses recounts the boundaries wherein this covenant was binding: the Garden of Eden. Finally, God established the conditions whereby man might remain in this estate: care for the garden, remain righteous, and do not eat of the tree.
This covenant between God and Adam was fully determined beforehand by God; man in no way takes part in negotiations with God over this agreement. God has given life to man, and man is expected to honor God’s just requirements in order to remain in the estate in which he was created.
“So we may say that man has not at any time entered into covenant with God but God has entered into covenant with man. It only belongs to his sovereign majesty and is the fuit of his infinite goodness to propose, as well as his wisdom to choose and order, the terms of a covenant relationship between himself and his creatures. Therefore the covenant that he has made with men is frequently in Scripture said to be the Lord’s covenant, as in Psalm 25:14, Isaiah 56:4, 6, and other places,” (Nehemiah Coxe, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, pg. 35).
This particular covenant between God and Adam has major implications for us today. Paul tells us that we are either in Christ or in Adam. Where Adam was unfaithful and broke his covenant with God, ensuring that all of his children would be born in bondage to sin, Christ was fulfilled it, redeeming His church from bondage to sin.
Benefits Bestowed by God
Life. The first detail that must be examined in relation to the original state of man is the fact that God gives him life (Gen. 2:7). There were no preconditions to God’s choice to bestow life upon mankind, nor could man have done anything to earn this gift. God, out of His own good pleasure, bestowed life upon man. We often do not think of life as a gift, especially when we’re going through hardships, but it is most certainly a gift of God (Deut. 32:39; Job 33:4; Eccl. 9:9; Acts 17:25).
All life is a gift from God. I am always confounded to hear of total strangers who see “large” families in the mall or in the grocery store and stop the mother to ask, “You know how to fix that, right?” Somehow, in our society, we have come to view the gift of life, and especially the lives of children, as a burden. We have forgotten the righteous prayer of Hannah (1Sam. 1:1-11).
Tellingly, The Baptist Catechism does not refer to this covenant by its more common moniker: the Covenant of Works. This moniker focuses on the condition of the covenant rather than the benefit. Rather, The Baptist Catechism calls the covenant the “Covenant of Life,” which focuses our attention on the benefit we receive. This is the mindset with which we ought to consider all of God’s covenant dealings with man. In this sense, all of God’s covenants are gracious in that they bestow upon us a benefit not previously merited by us.
Provision. Not only did God bestow life upon Adam, but he also provided him all he needed to sustain and enjoy life in the garden. God provided Adam with food (Gen. 2:16), companionship (Gen. 2:18-23), and fellowship with God (Gen. 3:8a). It had not yet rained on the earth, so Adam and Eve needed no shelter. Adam and Eve were not ashamed of their nakedness, so they needed no clothes. Thus, we see that God had provided for them everything they needed and more.
“Adam enjoyed the unmerited privilege of physical and spiritual life. He enjoyed communion with God. He knew God. He had affectionate fellowship with him. Scripture calls such a knowledge and fellowship with God ‘life’ (John 17:3). Thus Adam had life, physical and spiritual,” (Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants, pg. 338).
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus assures us that God provides for us all things that we need, and that we in turn are to be anxious for nothing:
“25For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the filed grow; they do not toil or spin, 29yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:25-34).
If there is one thing that we as Christians in America tend to be guilty of, it is relying on our fallen world system to provide us with all we need. Contrary to this mode of living, we ought to look to man’s original state and see that God is the giver of all things. He placed man in a state of perfect, abundant provision. The height of this mentality is most potently displayed during election seasons in America. Our default assumption seems to be that our country will fall apart tomorrow if we do not get what we want today.
We need to be constantly reminded that God is the one who is in control. God provides for us, and if He decides to take our prosperity from us, so be it. He has not promised us prosperity; He has promised us provision.
The Character of Man’s Original Estate
Sinless. Whatever we might say about man in his original state, it is important to recognize that man was created sinless (Gen. 1:31a; Eccl. 7:29). When first created, Adam knew neither bondage to sin nor the effects of sin. His estate was not only ideal because of his external circumstances, but also because of his internal disposition. Man was created in a state of perfect communion and union with God (Gen. 3:8a).
This state of perfect communion and union with God is the ultimate goal of redemption (Rev. 21:3-4). God’s purpose in redeeming His elect is that they be conformed to the sinless and perfect image of His Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 4:15), ensuring an eternal union and communion with God in heaven. What Adam and Eve had in the garden, freedom from bondage and penalty of sin, we will have in glory, but with the full assurance that we will never again be subject to the dominion of sin over us.
Joyful. Regarding the joy man had in his original state, first, we should recognize the fact that Adam and Eve had no shortage of joy in the estate in which God created them. They not only had an abundance of necessary provisions, but God also provided them with the most delightful provisions. “Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9). In other words, God originally created man to enjoy his existence and enjoy the rest of creation.
Second, God created man to enjoy the blessing of relationship. This is one of the aspects of the Imago Dei. Just as the Trinity is eternally relational, so too man (His image bearer) is created to be in relationship (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18, 22-24). Man and woman were created for one another and, in their original state, their relationship did not bear the mark of shame (Gen. 2:25).
The Boundaries of Man’s Original Estate
The Garden of Eden. In the ancient Near-East, when two kings would sign a treaty, they always established the boundaries wherein that treaty was binding. For man, his arrangement with God was binding within the Garden of Eden. God created the garden especially for man and placed him there to tend it (Gen. 2:15), it was in the garden that God walked in their midst in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8), and it was in the garden that God placed the tree of life. When Adam sinned against God, he was kicked out of the garden and lost direct access to God and to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24).
When we ponder these realities, it should cause us to look forward to our glorious inheritance in heaven. All those who are no longer in Adam, but have been transferred into the New Covenant, in Christ, have the hope of experiencing all these things. God will transfer us to the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10-27) where He will once again walk among His people (Rev. 21:3-4) who will yet again have access to the tree of life (Rev. 22:2).
The Conditions of Man’s Original Estate
“Under this covenant, man must do what he was commanded in order to continue in a state of blessedness. If righteous man was [sic] to remain happy, all hinges on what he does! If man failed, then the curse falls. If man succeeded, blessing would be his and to all his offspring. Historically, this divinely-given arrangement by which man may be blessed has been called the Covenant of Works. That name was chosen because its focal point was on man’s working. Everything depended upon what man did,” (Walter Chantry, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, pg. 91).
Care for the Garden. There were essentially two commands that God gave Adam in the garden. He placed him there to tend the garden (Gen. 2:15) and commanded him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death (Gen. 2:16-17). Adam’s care and cultivation of the garden was one aspect of the dominion that Adam was to have over the earth. One thing of which to take note is the fact that Adam never complained of his work. In fact, it was not until after Adam sinned against God that we see that his toil and labor became toilsome and laborious (Gen. 3:17-19).
Work, in and of itself, is not evil. In fact, when we look at the fourth commandment, we see that it was not only God’s design that man rest on the seventh day, but that he work all six days leading up to it:
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy,” (Ex. 20:8-11; NASB).
Do not eat of the tree. In the Garden of Eden, God expected perfect obedience from Adam and Eve, upon pain of death. Man was made upright (Eccl. 7:29). “This uprightness or rectitude of nature consisted in the perfect harmony of his soul with that law of God which he was made under and subjected to,” (Coxe, Covenant Theology, pg. 43). Coupled with this “internal and subjective” law (Ibid.), which was encoded in his very nature, was a positive precept.
God verbally commanded him not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’” (Gen. 2:15-17).
Of course, we know that Adam did not obey God. That’s why we see in Romans 5:19: “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Adam was the first man. Through his disobedience, we all became sinners but, through Christ’s obedience, all who believe in him are freed from the dominion of sin.
In Adam, we see that the original covenant between God and man was broken. In Christ, there is a new arrangement, the New Covenant, in which all who are in Christ are made right with God. Where Adam disobeyed, Christ obeyed. Where we are condemned in Adam, we are redeemed in Christ. Thank God for His sovereign, redemptive dealings with His people.