The covenant of grace, some history and background


I’ve been a Christian for 15 years. Early in my Christian life I was told that Adam and Eve were created with immortality but they lost it at the fall. For many years I had a nagging question: “what then was the function of the tree of life?” Surely immortality rendered the tree of life functionally redundant.

The traditional reformed covenant of works attempted to solve this problem by making eternal celestial life, signified by the tree of life, the reward for Adam and Eve’s good behaviour. But this makes little sense. Adam and Eve were free to eat of every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-17). Their access to the tree of life was unrestricted and unconditional. It served as a sign and seal of God’s promise of eternal life and not simply a sign of a future reward for obedience.

I made the study of the function of the tree of life the subject of my third year dissertation at Oak Hill. My dissertation did not cover the subject comprehensively, it was too multi-disciplinary for one semester’s work. I have developed in some areas of thinking since then and these are now included in my outline.

The logical inconsistencies in the traditional covenant of works do not make my understanding right. The covenant of grace in the garden stands or falls, I believe, on three basic points:

  1. The names of the trees contain promises of God and Adam had knowledge of the promises
  2. The fruit of the trees functioned equally as covenantal sacraments
  3. The covenant of grace in the garden is consistent with God’s dealing with his people as revealed in the rest of scripture

These three points need some justification, which will follow in subsequent posts.

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