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The SpindleWorks Digital Christian Library E-mail SpindleWorks Shopping Guide Search SpindleWorks SpindleWorks Home Page HET SCHEPPINGSVERBOND MET ADAM: HET VERBOND DER WERKEN (The Creation Covenant with Adam: the Covenant of Works)
N. Diemer (As reviewed by Rev. Richard Stienstra)

Dated: May 28, 2001

Having read an interesting booklet recently, I pass my survey of Diemer's book.

The sub-title states that it treats the theologians of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, and England, and notes that the treatise is a dogma-historical study. The work comes with a foreword by Dr. F.W.Grosheide, who cites favorable notations by Dr.A.G.Honig, Rev.C.B.Bavinck, Dr.J.Thijs, and Dr.G.C.Berkouwer. (Kampen: J.H.Kok. pp.80. c1932). The present overview does not intend to survey all facets of this well researched booklet, but limits its scope to significant contributing factors in the development of the doctrine of the covenant of works in the Netherlands especially in the post Reformation century, even though Rev. Diemer also includes the lasting impact of that development on England and the Westminster Assembly.

1. Main Thesis

Diemer’s main thesis is that the post-Reformation theology of God’s covenant in the 17th century, and especially by the Dutch theologians Cloppenburg, Cocceius, and Witsius, is a departure from the Scripturally obedient articulation of Zwingli, Bullinger, and Calvin of Reformation times. Painstakingly the Latin, German, English, and Dutch speaking scholarly pastor adduces the evidence that the Lutheran scholar Melanchthon’s ‘humanist’ concept of the law of nature and its functioning as the image of God, as this was subsequently taught at the university at Bern, forms the basis of the later theologians’ understanding of the covenant of works. The designation ‘covenant of works’, by the way, was first used by the German professor Polanus. For Melanchthon, Diemer maintains, Adam would have attained ‘righteousness’ if he with his reasoning mind had carried out the law of nature for him thus obtaining by his obedient efforts the Imago Dei or the image of God. In this he differed only gradually from other creatures. Diemer calls this concept humanism.

2. Church Fathers and Middle Ages

The study reports that while the early church fathers did discuss a certain covenant relation between God and Adam and his descendants, it is only after the Reformation that the understanding of the ‘covenant of works’ developed. The ‘patres’ do make a distinction between Adam’s state of nature and his spiritual state into which he came by means of the ‘donum superadditum.’ Diemer writes that Augustine in his “City of God,” (XVI, 27) calls the symbolic command not to eat of the tree “the covenant of God with Adam,” established after he had received God’s supernatural grace. His transgression as the original sin in its consequences is passed on to his descendants.

Augustine’s views are worked out scholastically in the Middle Ages, Diemer explains. Lombard writes in his well- known “Sententiae” or “Sentences “ that man in paradise with all his descendants has been brought from the state of nature into a better and worthier state in which he would enjoy the heavenly and eternal well-being prepared in heaven, (Sentences II, XX, K). Lombard’s legacy is his doctrine that Adam experienced a two-fold state before his fall. He explains, “Just as man has been constituted of a two-fold nature, thus the Creator from the beginning has prepared two benefits for him: One temporal, the other eternal; one visible, the other invisible; one for the flesh, the other for the spirit. Because the natural is first and after that the spiritual, He [the Creator] has given the temporal and visible first but promised Adam the invisible and eternal, and proposed that it be pursued by means of merit. Yet to protect what He had given and to earn what He had promised, He [God] by means of the reasoning nature which He had put in the soul of man at the creation, whereby he would be able to discern between good and evil, the Creator added a command for obedience, which by keeping man would not lose the given benefits and obtain the promise in order that by merit he would come to the prize,” (Sentences, II, XX, K). Diemer concludes that Lombard taught that before the fall Adam had two states, and had to earn his salvation in heaven in his spiritual state.

3. Reformation

Diemer writes that the Reformers broke with the scholastics of the Middle Ages, and returned to the scriptural revelation. In general the author notes that the reformers taught that the spiritual state of man was already present when God created him in His image, and that this spiritual state consisted in a living relationship or fellowship with God as reflected in Art. 14 BC. Zwingli clearly states the distinction between Adam’s condition before and after the fall. He posits Adam and Christ as parallel heads, the first of the human race and the second of the elect. Zwingli writes, “In the same manner that the sin of Adam corrupted the human race so that no one was born not depraved, so also has the righteousness of Christ brought restoration,” (Decl. de Pecc. orig. II, 120 “Declaration of the Original Sin”?). Zwingli also taught that Adam was not a subject of the covenant of grace before the fall.

Diemer writes much more extensively about Bullinger since this reformer had a formative influence on the formation of the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Bullinger considers that God’s covenantal relation with Adam began with his creation in the image of God and after His likeness, in which he received the law of life. The reformer sharply distinguishes this covenant relationship with the covenant of grace after the fall. Bullinger contended, “While God has rescued man from eternal death, and from the bondage and servitude of the devil, still He reaches out to man and unites them with Him...and makes and establishes His covenant with him. This covenant He first began with Adam,” (Somma 1567 p.43). “This is not a conditional but an unconditional covenant in which God has included the duties and rules,” (Huysboeck, p.96, coll. I). Bullinger considers the covenant before the fall to be conditional, the one after the fall unconditional.

Diemer deduces that God’s covenant with Adam was organic as part of and included in the creation, since He made Adam in His own image. Bullinger calls this the “covenant of life” because it is directly connected to the law of life. The reformer writes, “Adam was perfect in all aspects. God Himself is the Model after which the likeness of the image is made. Not the body for God is Spirit. This image is noticeable in spiritual matters, such as immortality, truth, righteousness and holiness... He was created for life and complete bliss or need,” (Huysboeck, p.125, coll.I). Bullinger significantly says of Adam, “His knowledge was to know God Himself, and to obey Him only and to serve Him alone. Not to know God is idolatry; since all depended on the knowledge and service of God, which is the first step of wisdom. Adam knew who his Father was. This is true religion,” (Huysboeck, p.9, coll.3). For Bullinger Adam was completely perfect at creation.

The other reformer Diemer focuses on is Calvin, who worked together with Bullinger and was a kindred spirit. Calvin’s writing on the covenant is not as extensive nor as clear as Bullinger’s. For him in the state of life before the fall Adam’s position was parallel to that of Christ, whom Calvin considers Head of the covenant of grace. He sees the state of life with a law for life and a probationary command. Of the two trees he writes, “Those two trees were signs, the tree of life was a symbol and remembrance of the fact that life was received from God in order that man as often as he would taste the fruit, would remember from Whom he had received life. That tree of life was an example of Christ in that He is the only Word according to John 1:1-4, in Whom alone is life. That tree was a sign of the creation mediator, not of the recreation mediator, and evidence of Adam’s state before the fall,” (Genesis 2:9). The tree of life was for Adam in his state of life a seal that he possessed life in and through the obedience to the law. In this sense the tree of life was a sacrament for him. For Calvin the ‘state of life’ constituted what the Reformed Church would later refer to as the ‘covenant of works.’ Diemer concludes that for both reformers there is a principial difference between the covenant or state of life before the fall than after the fall.

Diemer notes that Ursinus, one of the framers of the catechism, teaches essentially the same thing. For him the covenant had been given in the creation according to the image of God. Thus he called it the “foedus naturale,” nature- covenant or covenant of nature. Ursinus explains, “The law contains within itself the covenant of nature, which in the creation of God is begun with man, that is, man knows it in his nature. It requires of us complete obedience toward God, and those who can satisfy that perfectly He promises eternal life; while the disobedient He threatens with eternal punishment,” (Summa Theologica, I, 14). He considers the matter of the tree of knowledge as an addition to and a confirmation of that covenant. Because the word “nature” caused confusion and misuse, the covenant was later called the covenant of works. The assigning of Adam’s guilt to his descendants is seen by Ursinus in the same way as Bullinger and Calvin did. Ursinus also held that the covenant was instituted or initiated organically.

4. Post Reformation

As the 17th century made its entry into history, significant changes surfaced in the Reformed Churches of Holland and in some other countries, Diemer reports. Bullinger and Calvin had taught a view of the covenant that was ‘organic,’ and directly related to and inhering in the fact that Adam was created in God’s image, even though Calvin’s terminology was ‘state of life.’ However, with increasing frequency the perspective of theologians became ‘mechanical.’ Many considered the covenant as a ‘superadditum,’ an added feature to His involvement with creation. Diemer contends that this more mechanical conception of the covenant continued to hold sway in Europe until near the end of the 19th century when especially A. Kuyper returned to the Scriptural views of Bullinger and Calvin.

Diemer’s work adduces a number of theologians whose views contributed to the subsequent covenant theology as it came to be held in the Netherlands. The present overview only presents those whose work have had a significant impact on covenant theology in the Netherlands. Diemer cites the work of Gellius Snecanus who taught that there was only one covenant, the covenant of grace which was present in man’s creation in God’s image (Meth. Discr. sive Testam. pp. 277-291). Snecanus means that the image of God is the ability and makes man suitable to keep God’s law. By this law of nature man must establish God’s kingdom on earth. Diemer’s assessment is that Snecanus in teaching the law as he does has as spiritual father Melanchthon, whose lex naturae was influenced by the humanist Erasmus, while his view of the covenant constitutes essentially a naturalistic and moralistic philosophy.

The German school of Herborn in Nassau sought to promote the idea of the covenant vigorously, with the objective to unite Calvinism and Humanism, Diemer holds. Some eminent professors taught at Herborn, among them were Althusius and Martini. The three theologians in which Diemer’s treatise takes close interest, Cloppenburg, Cocceius, and Witsius, were heavily influenced by the teachings of the Herborn theological school of higher learning, and in fact Cocceius was taught by Martini who also was a delegate to the Synod of Dort. The brilliant jurist Althusius was trained in the concept of Roman law and agreements or covenants. He sought to transpose those secular concepts onto the Scripture’s revelation of law and covenant, a pursuit that made him sympathetic to the medieval scholasticism of Lombard. Most of the theologians of this school treat their dogmatics as salvation history. This history of redemption for them starts with the initiation of the covenant of works in paradise.

The Herborn theologians were in agreement with the views of Melanchthon, Diemer writes, in that they viewed the covenant and law of nature in the way the Lutheran theologian did. Diemer notes, “With this for-the-covenant-suitable man God mechanically establishes the covenant of works through the symbolic law not to eat of the well-known tree. This mechanical Roman covenant concept is from then on taken over by the reformed theologians in all countries, although with variations. On the one hand are the reformed who develop this mechanical covenant view further in a reformed fashion, while on the other hand are the humanists who also develop their humanistic concepts. There are others for whom the two lines coalesce. Most humanists, however, later disavow the covenant idea entirely. They teach that everything flows from God’s fixed laws of nature, and do not even speak of covenant establishment. (Cocceians, liberals)” ( p. 29).

Martini also taught in Bremen where he instructed Cocceius, Diemer notes. He was a thorough and consistent infralapsarian, and his theology was experience oriented. At the Synod of Dort Martini stood out as the one who sought to reconcile the Remonstrants and the Reformed. Adam was created in God’s image, he taught, and therein receiving the lex naturae, which became the lex foederis or the law of the covenant. Martini considered that God’s covenant was the covenant of works because man by his works could merit the friendship of God, and thus would bring the kingdom of God on this world.

Cloppenburg was an especially learned theologian, Diemer states. He visited all the major universities of Europe and was thoroughly acquainted with the various currents of theological thought, including those in Herborn. He met defenders of Bullinger, Calvin, and Ursinus, as well as those of Melanchthon. Cloppenburg sought to bring together the diverging views of these two streams of thought. His friend and colleague was Cocceius who differed little in most matters concerning the doctrine of the covenant. They taught together in Franeker for some years, and left a lasting impact on the Reformed Churches. Cloppenburg published his work on the covenant in 1642, while Cocceius’ systematic theology became public in 1648. Witsius taught a few decades later, but his major work, De Oeconomia Foederum Dei cum hominibus or “The Economy of God’s Covenant with Man,” 1677, reveals that he had assimilated many of the views of Cloppenburg and Cocceius. Diemer contends that each professor emphasized different aspects at times, but all three are in general agreement with respect to the covenant of works.

Witsius discerns three states with respect to Adam, similar to Cloppenburg and Cocceius. First, the state of nature, next the state of covenant, and third, the state of salvation in the covenant of grace. Diemer reports the details in this way. Adam was created in the state of nature. For his nature he received the law of nature, and by persevering in obeying it would have earthly happiness and bliss. In order to carry out this obedience God had given him powers and characteristics Witsius and the other two called ‘the image of God.’ Diemer contends that this subtle and almost deceptive developmental idea of Adam appears to present a perfect creation of him, yet he is not yet a spiritual person. For this purpose God established the covenant of works with him by which he becomes the friend and son of God, and thus spiritual. Diemer asserts that in the view of these three theologians Adam in fact was not created perfect, because God was not his life as the church confesses it in BC Art.14.

The covenant of works is actually and really the only and eternal covenant which God by His free determination has added to Adam’s state of nature. God initiates this covenant when he is still ‘undamaged’ in his state of nature, and thus right. Through God’s action Adam becomes God’s covenant son, and his nature-state becomes his covenant-state (Cloppenburg: Op. Om. de Foed. #13, 14, p.500; Cocceius: Op. Om. de foed. #22-25; Witsius: #12, 13). Diemer explains what is meant. “With the idea that the covenant of works is the only and eternal covenant they mean that eternal life in heaven, the essential fellowship with God, the life of God Himself, is not attainable other than as merit for the obedience to the law of nature (which has become covenant law), either through Adam or through Christ. Thus the covenant of grace is essentially a part of the covenant of works,” p. 36. There appears an interesting footnote in Diemer’s book to the effect that the idea that the covenant of works being the only and eternal covenant of which the covenant of grace is but a new dispensation, is found in the foreword to the Dutch “Statenvertaling” of the New Testament.

Adam in his state of nature was spiritually poor, but through the covenant he becomes spiritually rich. Yet not through a deed in him, but through an external covenant made with him. These spiritual riches do not consist in the essential living fellowship with God, but in the fact that Adam can now lift up his reasoning mind to the spiritual heavenly bliss in heaven, which now becomes his life’s purpose. By this covenant he now receives the right to wages, ex pacto, or by contract (Cloppenburg, #2, 3, pp. 409, 828; Cocceius, #4; Witsius, #12, 13).

Cloppenburg’s book on the covenant contains this definition of the covenant of works. “When the Holy Scripture speaks concerning the covenant between God and man, it means the spiritual agreement of mutual faithfulness, initiated by God with man when the condition was yet inviolate, by which He demanded of man complete obedience to the law, for which as pay God promises eternal life,” Op. Om. de Foed. #1 p.489. He adds six short theses. “1. Because of God’s image, man owed God spiritual adoration as well as obedience to the law of nature, whose symbol inheres in the symbolic law, by which God forbade him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil under sanction of death, Gen. 2:16, 17. 2. To this symbolic law God added the symbol and sacrament of the promise of eternal life, if he continued in obedience. This symbol was the tree of life, Gen. 2:19, 3:2; cf Rev. 2:7, 21:2. 3. Man by his transgression of this symbolic law, through the temptation of the devil, demonstrated himself and all his natural descendants as sinners, Gen. 3, Gal. 5:12. 4. By that first sin, which was reckoned to him and all his descendants, the entire race of man in him was made guilty of the temporal and eternal death, Rom. 5:12, 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:21, 22. 5. In addition to this original guilt of the first transgression, by his first sin he also lost the image of God. This loss becomes spiritual nakedness, reflected by the nakedness of his body, which brought him to shame, Gen. 3:7, 10, 21; Rev. 3:17, 18. 6. Through this spiritual nakedness the image of God in the narrow sense could not continue, and thus the sin with its original corruption is the legacy of the entire human race,” (I Tit. IX, p.1117).

Cocceius has the following definition of the covenant of works: “This covenant is known principally from these two ideas, Gal 3:12, cf. 10, “The man who does them shall live by them” and “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Herein is contained, law, promise, and threat. The law sets forth the cause and effect to obtain God’s love. The promise binds to this way the highest good. The threat excludes every other way of acquiring the highest good. Obedience is both the righteousness and the cause of the righteousness, namely to demand it as the wages of righteousness,” (Op. Om. de foed. #12). Diemer notes that Witsius finds agreement with both definitions, (I, II, #1, p. 489).

Diemer draws six conclusions from these definitions concerning the views of Cloppenburg, Cocceius, and Witsius about the covenant of works and related matters. “From these definitions and theses this becomes clear: 1. They speak of the inviolate or undamaged condition Adam and not of his perfect condition, which makes quite a difference. 2. They place the emphasis only on the spirituality of the image of God and of the covenant, to which Pietism later refers. 3. The covenant of works is the crowning of the law of nature, i.e., the law in the state of nature contained not yet promise or threat; this is added to the law only later in the covenant. 4. The obedience to the law is the cause and effect of obtaining the love of God and of righteousness. It is thus not primary, but merely the revelation of that love of God in him. Nor is it the perfect righteousness in him, but the cause and effect to obtain it. 5. Adam did not have the highest good yet, not even in principle, but only that he must earn it. Thus it was not that he must obtain the ability never to lose this highest good in order that it would come to be revealed in heaven, but he did not possess it and must yet earn it. 6. The image of God in the narrow sense is not the essential fellowship of life with God, but only the characteristics of God’s image,” ( p. 38, 39).

The three theologians, Cloppenburg, Cocceius, and Witsius, in their publications on the covenant of works use the divisions of James Ussher’s “Body of Divinity”and provide their own interpretations. Diemer has extensive coverage of each of the major subjects in the eight categories. The present precis selects the salient factors in each from Diemer’s compilation.


Name and Concept “Berith” means covenant and is deduced from ‘barah’ which means election and is connected to the voluntary choosing of the conditions. In distinction from ‘testament’ which also provides a voluntary ordinance or arrangement, a covenant is two-sided. This covenant is called the covenant of ‘works’ as contrast with ‘faith’ in the covenant of grace. Through the covenant of works the natural nature of man becomes spiritual and focuses for the first time on the heavenly things. He becomes now the son of God who is heir of God, an inheritance he must earn by his obedience. The covenant of works brings Adam to a higher plateau or level for now he learns that God is triune through the covenant revelation, (Cloppenburg # 13, 14, p. 500; Cocceius #11).

II. The Parties

A. The first party is the Triune God who has revealed Himself through His Son as the creation-mediator. The tree of life pictures this Mediator, the fountain and source of life. God establishes this covenant with Adam voluntarily, (Cocceius, Summa CXXIII, #11, 12; Witsius, #8).

B. The second party is Adam as the image of God, since he possesses this in his state of nature along with the created law of nature within him. “God has conferred such powers upon man with which he could obey and earn the right to eternal life.... Ecclesiastes 7:29 reads, “God made man upright.” This righteousness is in the mind ‘wisdom,’ and in the will it is ‘love for the truth, for God and for the neighbor,’ which man and God had in common, by which he was a light, as God is Light,” (Cocceius #22; Cloppenburg #4, 5, pp. 489, 829; Witsius #3-7). Through the covenant of works God places man above the other creatures, but he himself must earn, ‘ex pacto,’ the objective image of God. Adam does come through the supernatural covenant on a higher plateau, but in essence he remains as he was in his state of nature. The lex naturae becomes now the lex foederis, (Cloppenburg #8-11, 20-24, pp. 492, 493; Ex. Th. 1. VI, 2, 3). This law is the constant expression of God’s image, the holiness is only his will which loves the truth, while the righteousness consists only in the right‘ex pacto’ to demand life (i.e. the objective image of God) after completed labor, (Cocceius II, #13).

III. The Conditions

The lex naturae or the law of nature (in Melanchthon’s sense) is the principal law in the covenant of works. Adam is obligated to obey it, even if it formed his nature. He must now choose life or death. He could not do this in his natural state, for then there were not yet wages nor punishment connected to it. His conscience was the capacity and power of the soul which could only come to expression because it justified him through obedience, but condemned him through disobedience. The conscience testifies with the covenant law, (Cloppenburg I. #8-11, 20, 23; Exc. Th. 1, VI, 2, 3; Cocceius #13, 18-23; Witsius I, III #2, 7).

The command not to eat of the well-known tree is an arbitrary and symbolic law with a conforming punishment in this covenant. It is called symbolic law because it is added to the spiritual moral law as a test of obedience. Not eating will be a symbol of man’s inclination and disposition toward God. The one tree is singled out because of the dominion God has given over all creatures, and this command to Adam God demonstrates that He is Lord over all and that the obedience whereby man must be justified must be wholehearted. Thus, this symbolic law is really of a spiritual nature, even if it involved a physical deed, Rom. 7:14. With this law the covenant has actually been established, (Cloppenburg I #25, p. 493; De foed. Leg. Just. III #19, p. 837; Cocceius, Schol. Sacr. C. II; Summa CXXVI, # 4, 6; De foed. D. II, # 20; Witsius I, III, #20, 21).

The covenant of works requires a three-fold perfection for obedience. First, that of degrees or the obedience out of a completely holy principle of indwelling and personal righteousness, given Adam in the creation. Matt. 23:27, Luke 10:27, Rom. 10:3, Phil.3:9, Titus 3:5. Second, that of parts or without any imperfection. Third, that of perseverance. If Adam failed even in one of these three perfections, restoration was not possible. Ezek. 18:24, 33:12. Through this Adam must be shaped by godly wisdom and will. Rom. 11:6, 4:4-5. In this manner the law is the cause of righteousness and rewards the righteousness, (Cloppenburg # 23, 24, pp. 492, 493, 836; Cocceius #18; Witsius I, III #22-24). Diemer concludes at this point that for these theologians the image of God for Adam at the creation was not yet shaped ‘very good,’ but needed to be formed ever more.

IV. The Promise

Through the covenant man enters a covenant relationship with God who treats him now as friend and promises him wages. In his natural state Adam did not yet know God, and there was not yet a relationship of friendship with God or a fellowship with Him, for his will was yet bound. All this changes with the covenant and with the promise of wages. With this Adam reaches a higher state of development, for that promise is the cause that he is made more sure in his religion. The obligation of obedience as duty weighs more heavily in order that he by it will work more cheerfully, and that God will give him wages according to his labor, (Cloppenburg #31-33, pp. 494, 495, 613). Cocceius writes, “The will of Adam becomes truly free only by this covenant with the promise and the threat, for now the choice is placed between good and evil,” (#52). Witsius says that the promised life, after the completed labor, can just as well be continued here on earth in the state of bliss, ( #9).

V. The Threat

Death is not a result of man’s nature, but it is punishment due to the transgression of the law, as a consequence of Adam’s guilt through which death comes to all as punishment. Death consists of 1) the separation of the soul from God and His kingdom, and of sanctification. It follows the law of sin, Eph. 2: 1-5, Rom. 7:23. 2) The labor in the sweat of one’s brow, sorrows and all misery in this life, Gen. 3:16-18, John 5:7. 3) The death of the body, Gen. 3:14. 4) The transition of the soul to the place of agony and suffering, Luke 16:23-25. 5) The resurrection of the body from death to eternal punishment after this dispensation, Acts 24:15, 2 Cor. 5:10, (Cloppenburg, u.s.; Cocceius #42; Witsius #39,40 cf. #17).

VI. The Sacraments

For the three theologians the sacraments are signs and seals only of the future life in heaven, which will apply as wages to man. Through these sacraments Adam received a more accurate and precise idea of the future life, and if man obediently perseveres, the certainty of it will not be kept from him, so that his faith is strengthened, (Cloppenburg, Schol. Sacr. C.II #2, p. 10; De foed, D. d. II #12, pp. 500, 851; Cocceius #19; Witsius I, VI #1-2).

Paradise itself was a sacrament, for it revealed the incompleteness of all things, and therefore it points to and assures Adam of the much more glorious dwelling place in heaven, where he would immediately receive the enjoyment of the Creator and His Image, (Cloppenburg II #12, pp. 500, 851; Cocceius, Summa CXXIII #7; de foed. #32; Witsius I, VI #4-10).

The tree of life for the three theologians is only a sacrament of the truth that life would continue in obedience to the law, but only of the future objective life-fellowship with God after obedience. Cocceius believes that Adam did eat of the tree, since it only sealed the promise and nothing more, (Summa, u.s.). Cloppenburg contends that Adam did not eat of the tree, since God prevented this as the tree contained life giving powers, and if Adam should eat of it he would partake of the promised life in an untimely and forbidden manner, (Cloppenburg, u.s.).

The tree of life does not point to the Triune God, but to Jesus Christ, with whom man must seek strength and comfort, and whose virtues he must see in the tree. Adam had all the comfort he needed in the state of the covenant, (Cocceius, Summa C. XIII # 11, 12; Witsius I, VI #13, 15).

VII. God’s Son-ship in Adam

Cloppenburg , referring to Luke 3:38, contends that Adam was the son of God by virtue of his creation and that this also comes out in the image of God. He notes, however, that this son-ship does not give him right to the inheritance of life. Such a right does not inhere in his nature-state. He only received that when the covenant is mechanically established through his obedience. However, Adam forfeited his inheritance. In his state of nature, being God’s son was really nothing more than servant-like obedience. Only in the covenant does Adam truly become God’s son with a conditional promise. (Cloppenburg, I # 39, 40; II #7, 8, pp. 496, 498).

VIII. Violation and ‘Abolition’

With the breaking of the covenant it is also discontinued in this sense that the agreement no longer is there. The promise of life is gone. The obligation of the covenant of works continues nevertheless, and therefore its essence can never be destroyed, but by the restoration of justice continues in the covenant of grace, which is the new order or dispensation of the covenant of works. According to Cloppenburg, Cocceius, and Witsius, Christ has in reality become Head of the covenant of works, and all people continue to be obligated to obey the law of nature as covenant-law, for according to God’s truth and righteousness the justice of God for man is eternal and unalterable, (Cloppenburg, II #1-3, pp. 497, 854; Witsius, I, IX #1-23). Considering God’s right to insist on a pure and unblemished existence of man, the covenant of works never was temporary, but eternal. The intervening covenant with the Mosaic giving of the law was merely temporary, but the covenant of works is the true and essential eternal covenant, (Cloppenburg # 13, 16; Witsius #21).

In the covenant of grace, according to these theologians, the believers have the image of God only as a shadow of the objective image. There is no unio mystica or mystic union with Christ during the Old Testament. Those believers had only the promise, just as Adam did. The grace of God in Christ is hidden in the OT and needs to be ratified by Christ’s death. The believers under the Old Testament only had the ‘paresis’, only the New Testament believers received the ‘aphesis,’ Cloppenburg, II, # 9, 17, pp. 528, 532; Cocceius, III, # 58).

Cocceius considers the subject of the covenant of grace under the title Covenant of Works. The Kingdom of God, initiated with the establishing of the covenant of works in paradise, continues in and through the grace of Christ in the covenant of grace. This covenant of grace is rooted in the ‘pactum pacis’ or the agreement of peace between the Father and the Son, and is an internal divine compact, (Cocceius, # 88). The covenant of grace is merely corrective of the covenant of works, and thus functions negatively in order to reach the positive objective. The former brings the demands of the covenant of works to fulfillment in the long way of development. For the three theologians the covenant of works is really nothing other than an introduction in order to come to the revelation and execution of the Pactum between the Father and the Son, (Cocceius, #609).

Diemer summarizes the doctrine of the covenant of works as taught by Cloppenburg, Cocceius, and Witsius, in a number of statements.

1. Man is in his state of creation or nature not perfect.

2. The image of God in which man is created consists only of powers and capacities or qualities, and is a shadow of the objective image of God.

3. His will in this state of nature is still bound to the law of nature (as taught by Melanchthon).

4. Adam in that state was not yet a friend and son of God with right to the inheritance of God.

5. His longing and desire reach no further than the earthly paradise in his state of nature.

6. Adam was in his nature-state only the father and root of the human race.

7. Because of the prohibition to eat of the well-known tree, God initiated and established His covenant with Adam externally and mechanically. It came to be called the covenant of works.

8. Through this covenant the law of nature became the law of the covenant.

9. Adam’s will became free only through the covenant.

10. God attached obedience to the law of the covenant, determining as wages eternal life in heaven, and connected the punishment of eternal death to disobedience.

11. Only through the covenant did Adam become substitute head of the covenant who represented the entire human race.

12. The accounting of Adam’s wages or punishment came into being no earlier than after the conception and birth in corruption.

13. Through the covenant Adam becomes son of God, yet he must earn his inheritance himself.

14. The covenant relationship to his descendants was a mechanically established ethical covenant bond, which is not grounded in the nature of man.

15. The fall did not take place through unwillingness but through inability.

16. Through the fall this covenant was not abandoned nor discontinued, but continued negatively in the covenant of grace.

17. Christ does not yet bring the objective image of God in the covenant of grace, but restores only the powers and qualities in the believer, in order with the hope of eternal life hereafter, to enable him to bring the kingdom of God on earth.

Diemer concludes that Cloppenburg, Cocceius, and Witsius with the development of the doctrine of the covenant of works, instead of bringing much profit to the church as they expected, have brought great damage to the Reformed theology and understanding of Scripture in the Netherlands. He notes, “It’s no wonder that so many theologians in the Reformed Churches turn their backs to this doctrine,” (p. 54).

Diemer considers the designation of “covenant of works” unhappily chosen. In fact, none of the Reformers used it. Too easily, he contends, the concept of ‘earning’ is inappropriately attached to humans, especially sinful humans. Diemer prefers the words “Creation Covenant with Adam” and considers the choice to be more in line with the Reformation fathers. He observes that in both covenants there is no scriptural revelation of actually earning anything.

The command not to eat of the tree of knowledge does not originate the covenant, Diemer writes, for God’s covenant does not come through a prohibition, but is His own willing design. The command not to eat does not lead man to higher development, but is the revelation and confirmation of the covenant given in the creation, wherein the implicit promise and threat are already present. God’s command reveals explicitly what was already implicitly present.

Diemer asserts at the end of his research, “Both covenants, the creation covenant as well as the covenant of grace, are tied to life ... There can be no talk of wages in either covenant. The end of the creation covenant is eternal life in heaven, not because of, but through the law. The end of the covenant of grace is that same eternal life, not because of, but through faith. Both covenants are established organically. The first rests securely and organically in the creation, while the second in the re-creation.” He adds, “With this we are also preserved from separating the physical and ethical bond between Adam and the human race. In the organic view both covenants are given either in the creation covenant or in the re-creation covenant. With this is removed the mechanical concept of the Roman justice,” (p. 77).

Translated by Rev. Richard Stienstra May 2001


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