February 2010  •  Volume XII, Issue 22
(Our: Vol. 12,  Issue  4)

  The Psalms Versus Common Grace (2)
  The Covenant of Works

The Psalms Versus Common Grace (2)

Like Psalm 5, which we treated in the last News, Psalm 11 opposes the idea that God loves everybody, including the reprobate—the core position of common grace. The key verses are: “[3] If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? [4] The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men. [5] The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. [6] Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. [7] For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright” (Ps. 11:3-7).

God’s attitude towards the ungodly is that of hatred: “the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth” (5). When it says that God’s “soul” hates them, it means all that God is. He hates them in His inmost being, so to speak. Moreover, God hates not just the sin, but the sinner: “the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth” (5).

We are also told the ground for God’s hatred of the wicked. Jehovah hates them (5) and will destroy them (6), “For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness” (7). Jehovah’s perfect righteousness and justice blaze against ungodly rebels. He is the holy and just One, therefore “the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth” (5).

God’s hatred of the ungodly in time issues in their terrible punishment in hell: “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup” (6). This is the ultimate and final expression of His abhorrence of the wicked: their everlasting agony.

Psalm 11 speaks of the reprobate wicked, for those whom God hates (5) He will punish in hell (6). The elect, prior to their conversion, live in sin. But it is not true to say that God hates them, even when they were in unbelief. God eternally loved His people in Christ (Rom. 9:13). Therefore, He brings them all to repentance (Jer. 31:3). We are under His wrath prior to our conversion (Eph. 2:3), but He never hated us, for His hatred is His resolute determination to thrust away from Himself and punish everlastingly.

According to the title, David penned Psalm 11. He is being persecuted by the ungodly in Israel, probably under Saul or Absalom. He asks, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (3). Righteousness and justice are the “foundations” of God’s kingdom on earth. When these are subverted and undermined by wicked leaders so that the saints are persecuted, what can the righteous do? So David recalls the heavenly foundations of God’s church and covenant. No matter what wicked church leaders do, God is holy, reigning in glory; He sees all. “The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men” (4). His rule is perfectly just. He loves and tests the righteous (5, 7) but He hates the wicked (5), whom He will cast into hell (6). This is the moral foundation of the church and the universe: God’s holy love of His saints in Christ and His righteous hatred of the ungodly.

You see how common grace attacks the foundations? Common grace says that God loves the reprobate wicked. David, do you hear that? God loves Saul (or Absalom) who is hunting you as a partridge on the hills and seeking to kill you (1-2)! But what about God’s holiness and righteousness which He loves (7)? What of His hatred of the wicked with all His “soul” (5)? Common grace puts the world out of kilter; the foundations are moved! For God is not perfectly righteous, if He loves the reprobate who are wholly sinful.

Sadly, many Christians believe in common grace: God loves everybody, there is good in everybody (contra total depravity), God approves of some or much of the world’s activities (contra Prov. 21:4) and Christians should see moral good in just about everything that the wicked do. Thus there is good in the higher critics and their work, though they undermine the authority and inerrancy of Holy Scripture. Because of common grace, we can accept the ideas of the evolutionists (big bang cosmology, uniformitarian geology and macro-evolution from slime to humans), for they are good people, honestly searching for the truth (contra Eph. 2:1-3). The theories of secular psychologists on guilt, family relationships, etc., can be embraced and X-rated movies can be watched because of the powerful operations of common grace, some even dare argue.

Even sodomy! If God loves everybody, then God loves homosexuals—just as they are. There is some moral good in them and so we can learn from them, for they show us true love too. This line of reasoning regarding sodomy has been embraced by many in the churches in the Netherlands, the home country of Abraham Kuyper, the patron saint of common grace, as well as Kuyper’s disciples in Toronto, Canada, etc. The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in N. America, which in 1924 expelled Herman Hoeksema, justified allowing a lesbian group, singing about lesbianism, at the CRC’s Calvin College on the basis of common grace (2002). Church of England bishops argue for homosexual church members and clergy using common grace: God loves homosexuals; they are in His image. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, believing that God loves all sinners and under pressure from both homosexuals and political correctness both within and without the denomination, produced a “fudged” and compromised document on sodomy at its 2007 General Assembly (www.cprf.co.uk/articles/pciandsodomy.htm).

If you deny that God hates the wicked and maintain that He loves them, you have destroyed the moral foundations of the church (Jehovah’s righteous and discriminating love for His people only in Jesus Christ) and the church is already falling. The cracks are appearing and will grow—even if this is not admitted or wanted.   Rev. Stewart    

(For a further explanation of Psalm 11:3-7, please listen to "The Moral Foundations of the Church" or download it from the CPRC website at http://www.cprf.co.uk/audio/OTindividual.htm)

The Covenant of Works

Having answered the reader concerning the place of children in the covenant, only this part of her question remains for my response: “With whom was the covenant of works made? The visible or the invisible church? How does all that work out?”

After a close scrutiny of the covenant of works, Herman Hoeksema came to the conclusion that it was an erroneous view. I here summarise Hoeksema’s carefully developed analysis and arguments (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, pp. 308-312):
1) It finds no support in the Word of God, but is an unwarranted deduction from God’s command to Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
2) The covenant of works postulates a period of probation for Adam, at the end of which he would have received eternal and heavenly life, but this is impossible for man except through Christ (I Cor. 15:47). Also the concept of Adam’s entering eternal life in heaven has imbedded in it the idea of merit, a notion abhorrent to Reformed theology (Luke 17:10; Rom. 11:35).
3) This view raises other problems: How long was the probationary period? Would Adam have entered heaven with all his posterity? What would then happen to the earthly creation in which Adam was prophet, priest and king?
4) The covenant of works makes the covenant between God and Adam something incidental to Adam’s creation, for it was added to Adam after his creation. What was Adam’s relationship to God prior to this covenant?
5) If one looks at the whole concept from the viewpoint of God’s sovereignty and wisdom, His original intention in establishing a covenant of works with Adam ended in failure and God found it necessary to resort to another plan to accomplish salvation.
I am persuaded by these arguments and reject the idea of a covenant of works with Adam. But this does not mean that Adam did not stand in a covenant with God.    

Adam was created as God’s servant, as the head of the entire creation in which he stood as prophet, priest and king. He was created in God’s image and was called to serve the Lord his God in all he did.

Adam was God’s friend, as well as His servant, standing in a relationship of fellowship with His Lord. The tree of life, from which Adam was called to eat, was the symbol of this friendship between God and Adam. In his joyful service of God in the midst of His creation, Adam experienced fellowship with God. Not only did the whole creation, formed by the Word of God, speak of His greatness and power, His majesty and glory; it also spoke of God’s goodness and love towards Adam—and, subsequently, towards Eve. Adam could hear God’s speech in the singing of the birds, the beauty of the flowers, the glory of the trees and the splendour of the stars at night.

Hearing this grand and beautiful chorus that creation sang, Adam was filled with love for God and overwhelmed with the greatness and majesty of his creator. It was a pristine creation, for sin had not yet entered, nor death to dull God’s speech. Adam responded in praise and adoration to the great God who had blessed him so richly.

There was also a special way in which God and Adam had fellowship together. In paradise, God talked directly to Adam (e.g., Gen. 1:28-30; 2:16-17). After Adam and Eve had sinned, “they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (3:8). This indicates that God’s walking and speaking in the garden was a common, perhaps daily, phenomenon. But this time Adam and Eve, instead of going to meet God, hid themselves, for they knew they had sinned (3:10).

Though not, of course, a covenant of grace in the sense that God revealed His grace through Jesus Christ to sinful post-fall Adam, we may very well call the covenant that God established with pre-fall Adam a covenant of grace, for God showed His unmerited favour to Adam and Eve. He had created Adam and Eve perfect—itself a great, unmerited grace. God freely gave Adam and Eve a beautiful and wonderful creation in which to live and over which to rule. The Triune God made Adam His covenant friend, a gift than which no greater can be found. The great and infinitely perfect God had fellowship with a creature that He Himself had made! Adam merited nothing, not even in a state of perfection. True it is that God’s grace is revealed in a richer way when God takes sinners into His covenant through Christ, but we must not minimize the blessedness pre-fall Adam received, none of which he had earned.

Understanding this truth, we can set aside the unbiblical doctrine of a covenant of works. God’s covenant was established in the very act of creation and not mechanically added to Adam’s relationship to God. It was a covenant that was graciously established and not in any sense merited. It was a covenant in which Adam’s work was not merely an obligation, but a great privilege and joy. It was a covenant in which Adam knew and revelled in God’s friendship, favour and love. God was Adam’s friend! And Adam was God’s friend! What more could Adam have?

But it was also a covenant that would be continued only in the way of obedience. Sin broke God’s covenant and Adam and Eve were driven from the garden.

God had some better thing in store for His people: a covenant of grace revealed through Christ to sinners. A covenant in which God and His people dwell in friendship through His Son. A covenant in which God takes His people to heaven and gives them a glorified earth as their inheritance—something forever beyond Adam’s reach, even if he had not fallen. A covenant in which God is glorified in a far higher way than in the first paradise. But it is still a covenant of friendship and fellowship. A covenant in which we, wretched sinners, are the friends of God through Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, our Saviour and Lord—the second Adam (Rom. 5:14; I Cor. 15:45-47).

The covenant was established with Adam and all his posterity, for Adam was created as the head of the human race. When Adam fell, the whole human race fell in Adam. Adam was a covenant breaker and the entire human race broke God’s covenant in Adam. But God sovereignly and wisely, for the sake of the realization of His own purpose, moved Adam aside to make room for the second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, God’s grace is fully revealed and the riches of God’s covenant, greater than they ever could be in the first paradise, are lavished on the elect church for whom Christ died, the head of the true human race.   Prof. Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm • Ballymena Protestant Hall, Galgorm Road
Pastor: Angus Stewart,  7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, Ballymena, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR
(028) 25 891 851  •  pastor@cprc.co.uk  •  www.cprc.co.uk  •  www.youtube.com/cprcni