Questions for the CanRC (6)

Scott's sixth question:

6. Schilder spoke of the covenant of grace in a way that did not distinguish it clearly from the prelapsarian covenant with Adam. Among the CanRCs what is considered to be the difference between the prelapsarian and postlapsarian covenants? Do the CanRCs agree with the URC declaration that “we reject the error of those…who, in any way and for any reason, confuse the ‘commandment of life’ given before the fall with the gospel announced after the fall”? Do the CanRCs agree with the URC declarations that “we reject the error of those… who confuse the ground and instrument of acceptance with God before the fall (obedience to the commandment of life) with the ground (Christ who kept the commandment of life) and instrument (faith in Christ) of acceptance with God after the fall” and “we reject the error of those…who deny that Christ earned acceptance with God and that all His merits have been imputed to believers”?

Answer: I would need to see some documentation before I can agree that Schilder did not clearly distinguish the covenant of grace from the prelapsarian covenant with Adam. All the evidence I have points to the contrary.

The difference between the prelapsarian covenant and the postlapsarian covenant is that the former is a loving relationship/friendship between the Creator and the human creature and the latter is a loving relationship/friendship between the Creator and the human sinner in which atonement for sin and the defeat of evil through the seed of the woman are now promised. In both scenarios, Adam and Eve had to "trust and obey" or else invite the covenant curses.

My own view of the prelapsarian arrangement might be different from some or most of my Can Ref colleagues. I'm not afraid to introduce eschatology in the Garden, though much of it is deduced from my reading of passages outside of Genesis, such as 1 Corinthians 15. I would say that Adam to be faithful to the terms of prelapsarian covenant and mature as a covenant child of God into a king of sorts, well qualified for the dominion to which he was called. Upon proving this maturity he would be entitled to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. NB: earlier God had said that he had given Adam ALL the trees in the garden to eat.

Discerning between good and evil is an index of the maturity required of kings. 2 Samuel 14:17: "Then your maidservant said, 'Please let the word of my lord the king be comforting, for as the angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and evil. And may the LORD your God be with you.'" 1 Kings 3:9: "So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil." Cf. Hebrews 5:14: "But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil."

I suspect that had Adam proved maturity, God would have translated him (through sleep-death perhaps) from a realm of posse peccare (able to sin) and posse non peccare (able not to sin) into a realm of non posse peccare (not able to sin). Many of my Can Ref colleagues might charge me with speculation and I would have difficulty defending myself!

But surely there is a difference between the pre-fall commandment of life and the post-fall gospel. The former ensures the continuation of sinless life through faith (trusting God) and obedience and the latter promises new life through Christ by faith. The ground of life in the prelapsarian context was trust in God and obedience to Him; the ground of life in the postlapsarian context is the (active and passive) obedience of Christ which becomes ours through faith.

Lastly, do we agree with the URCNA and "reject the error of those…who deny that Christ earned acceptance with God and that all His merits have been imputed to believers”? I hope we all recognize the infelicity of this statement. Did Christ need to earn acceptance with God? Or was Christ always the "beloved" Son of His Father in whom His Father was well-pleased? I suspect that the statement intends to say, "who deny that Christ earned acceptance for believers with God."

I have little objection to talk about the merit of Christ. One of my objections to using 'merit' to describe Adam's righteousness is the disproportion between the human act (finite) and the divine reward (infinite). This objection falls to the side when talking about Christ who as the eternal Son of God performed works of infinite worth. The Canons of Dort, for example, teach the death of Christ (2:4) "is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is--as was necessary to be our Savior--not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit." In fact, this death (2:4) "is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world."

Moreover, I recall Alistair McGrath in Iustitia Dei explaining how, at the time of the Reformation and before, the term "merits" simply denoted value and didn't necessarily imply proportionate justice. But my time is up and I'll have to dig up that citation later.

Popular Posts