The Sacraments Of The Covenant Of Works

I. God made a double covenant with man, the one of works and the other of grace; the former before, the latter after the fall.
II. The covenant of works was confirmed by a double sacrament, to wit, the Tree of Life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil both being planted in the midst of paradise.
III. They had a double use.
1. That man’s obedience might be tried, by using of the one, and abstaining from the other.
2. That the Tree of Life might ratify eternal happiness to those that should obey, but the Tree of Knowledge should signify to the disobedient, the loss of the greatest happiness and the possession of the greatest mercy.
IV. Therefore the Tree of Life was so called, not from any innate faculty it had to give life, but from a sacramental signification.
V. Likewise the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, had this denomination from signifying the chief good and evil and from the event.
VI. The happiness of man being yet in his integrity, consisted chiefly in the image of God.
…XIV. Man even in respect of his body was immortal, but not simply, as though his body being composed of the elements could not be resolved into its principles, but by Divine Covenant; not as thought it could not die, but because it had a possibility not to die….

Johannes Wollebius, Compendium of Christian Theology.


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    • Hi Jack,

      Wollebius, like many older writers, begins with one covenant with two distinct aspects, works and grace. Effectively it’s a two covenant scheme (for us) but relative to God it’s considered as one covenant.

      He was writing about the prelapsarian covenant of works and the postlapsarian covenant of grace.

      He treated the two trees mentioned in Genesis as sacraments, i.e., signs and seals of the covenant of works. One a sign/seal of life through obedience and the other a sign/seal of death through disobedience. This is a relatively conservative account. Later covenant theologians would expand the number of prelapsarian sacraments considerably.

      He goes on to say the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is also a test. There’s been debate about whether Adam ate of the tree of life before the fall or whether it was held out as a seal after he obeyed a temporary test. Wollebius takes it as the latter.

      He also reveals how much he places on the divine will. Notice that he wrote that the trees (esp. the tree of life) do what they do not by innate properties but only because God willed it to be so. This is probably related to his view of sacraments generally.

      The last section illustrates how, for Wollebius, immortality was the result of the divine will. In other words, for Wollebius, the covenants are essential to the way he read Scripture and the divine will lies behind the covenants.

      Things are (or were) as they are (or were) because of the divine will and God willed to administer (redemptive) history through two covenants, which operate on two distinct principles.

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