Pictet: The Covenant Of Nature Was A Covenant Of Works

With regard to the covenant itself, we must observe, what was the duty required by God; what was the promise made to the performance of that duty; what was the threat denounced against the neglect of it. Now the duty consisted in all that knowledge of God which could be derived from contemplating the divine work, and from revelation, as much as could be acquired by a perfectly upright mind; but especially in obedience to the law of God, both the natural law, which was engraven on man’s heart, and any special commandments, which God might choose to impose (such as was the command to abstain from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil;) in short, such an obedience was required, as was true and sincere (having respect not merely to some, but to all and each of God’s commands) constant and persevering, perfect and complete in all its parts. Moreover, man had sufficient power given him by his Creator to perform this obedience. The threatening denounced against the neglect of this obedience, was death, (Gen. 2:17,) by which we understand the death of the body, (Gen. 3:19,) together with all the miseries and calamities of life preceding; the death of the soul, on its separation from God, and from communion with him, (Ephes. 3:1,) and eternal death, consisting of the most dreadful torments both of soul and body. With regard to the promise of the covenant, though it is not expressly laid down, it is sufficiently clear from the threatening of death, which is opposed to it; for although God owes nothing to his creature, yet as the whole scripture sets him forth to us as slow to anger and abundant in mercy, it is not at all probable, that God denounced upon man the threat of eternal punishment, and at the same time gave him no promise. But if any one wonder why God should speak about punishment, and be silent concerning reward, we may give this as the probable reason of it, viz. that innocent Adam needed to have distinct mention made to him both of sin forbidden, and of death its consequence, seeing that in his upright state he was ignorant of death and sin, but it was not so necessary to make mention to him of the life which was to be bestowed upon him, on condition of his persevering in holiness; for he already enjoyed a most blessed life, from which he could very easily judge of the life that was to come. We must therefore form a judgment of the reward, from the punishment, and therefore, as the former comprehended all evil, especially eternal death, so the latter contained all that was good, particularly eternal life, and the most intimate communion with God in unchangeable holiness. This is further confirmed from the covenant of nature being the same as the covenant of works, as we shall see hereafter. Now the covenant of works promised eternal life, saying, “Do this, and live.”

Benedict Pictet (1655–1724), Christian Theology, trans. Frederick Reyroux (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, n.d.), 140–41.

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