Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 12

Q12. What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?
A. When God had created man, He entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death.

Some have called this “covenant of life” that God establishes with Adam the “covenant of works”. We must remember that whether we call the covenant the “covenant of life” or the “covenant of works”, eternal life in the Garden was just as much an act of God’s love towards his people as it is now. God certainly didn’t owe Adam and Eve the blessing of eternal life. However, in an act of love for his image bearers, God willingly entered into this covenant of life, promising Adam the blessings of eternal life if he remained obedient to his word.

There are a few things worth noting here about this covenant.

First, this covenant is indeed an act of providence. The Westminster Larger Catechism does a good job expanding upon this idea in question 20: “The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth; putting the creatures under his dominion, and ordaining marriage for his help; affording him communion with himself; instituting the Sabbath; entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.” This covenant falls under God’s most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions.

Second, the major distinction of the covenant of life compared to the covenant of grace is that there is no mediator between God and Adam. If the covenant is to be kept, Adam must be the one to keep it. If the covenant is broken, Adam, and those whom he represents, are the ones who must suffer the curse. In the covenant of grace, it is Christ who suffers the curse in the place of those whom He represents.