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8.25.2006

Framing the truth - the Four States of Man



Having gotten my arms around classical covenant theology I can see in perspective now why it is a difficult to see subject: it's because it is really in the category of biblical theology in terms of how it is presented. I.e. it's presented 'organically' and from isolated and particular points-of-view, and always seemingly as something that is in the process of being proven and substantiated and so on, but never quite getting there. The old-fashioned name for Covenant Theology is Federal Theology. It's the same thing, yet Federal Theology presents the subject matter in a more systematic theology kind of way. The subject matter is presented from a point above giving perspective, and parallels are drawn (the first and second Adam) and it all is framed so that there is a foundational structure rather than just alot of data. There is a body for the clothes to hang on rather than merely clothes in a pile.

And here is something very valuable to know: that structure is best seen in the four states of man:

1. Man in the state of innocence in the Garden;
2. man in the state of sin and corruption after the Fall;
3. man in the state of being re-born by God's grace; and,
4. man in the state of glorification after death.

When you absorb the existence and fact and truth of these four states into your foundational thinking and understanding of biblical doctrine you have the 'frame' for everything else. You have the sweep of the history of redemption, even, as it is tied directly to all the topics of systematic theology and to the practical level as doctrine is lived in your daily life and internal being.

Then there is the matter of a lost work (generally lost, though not unknown), that was once a folk classic on a par with Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, titled Human Nature in its Fourfold State, written by Thomas Boston. This is as elegant and on-the-mark a work of Federal Theology as exists.

The four states of man are the 'hook' - the frame - needed to sort out classical covenant theology (the three covenants: Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works, Covenant of Grace) -- Federal Theology; and to see the course of sacred history in plain terms; and to truly see how the doctrines of grace play out in between the Fall and glorification; and to see yourself and just where you are in it all.

It's a big realization for a Christian to truly 'see' that he is a sinner. Not a person who "does bad things" but a person who has a corrupt nature, a corrupt heart, no matter what he actually does. A poisonous snake who is condemned NOT because he strikes someone with his fangs, but because he has poison in him. And to realize that you can't get that poison out of you yourself any more than a leopard can change its spots. And to see just what occured in the Fall, how you are connected, justly, with its results; seeing what man was before the Fall so as to be able to see fully what man is now after the fall; then to see that you can't do anything about your condition but only God can effect the change from sinner to re-born saint. This is all Calvinism: five solas, doctrines of grace, all the anti-intuitive, difficult-to-accept, hardcore, unegotiated down to the demands of vanity, worldly pride, and self-will doctrine which when seen and accepted effects the necessary internal 'turning' in you from that vanity/worldly pride/self-will to faith/repentance/God's will - i.e. pure biblical doctrine that assaults man's wisdom - and seeing it all 'framed' by the four states of man ties it to sacred history and to yourself in a practical, clear, foundational way.

If you're inclined to reject it all no matter what you of course will continue to see nothing. But if you are able, by God, to see and know the truth to begin with then use the fact of the four states of man. Read Boston's classic work, and read this and this as a preface. (Don't underestimate Boston's work. If you think you already know the details of each state you likely still will be impressed with Boston if you give the book a fair reading. He is also actually Shakespearean in parts, but that may say as much about the foundational nature and truth of his subject matter and the striking aspect of seeing it all within the framework of the four states as it says about his own writing...)

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Usually the ultimate reason given for why God has chosen to work His plan the way He has is to manifest - or showcase, if you will (though there might be a better word I could find) - his justice and mercy to His elect.

That is biblical, yet it can also be stated that God had other things in view. He wanted to create beings that had real understanding, real conscience, and real will; and one could say that God wants his creatures to love Him in a real way rather than in some programmed way, and one could give this as the overall reason why his created beings need to have real understanding, real conscience, and real will. So how does God go about this? Putting these things in his created beings by fiat won't do it. They'd be merely created 'things.' So God has a plan. He creates Adam (and all men in Adam) figuratively and literally at a high level; then God allows man to fall. And it's in the fall and in the return that man develops real understanding, real conscience, and real will, and becomes more than a mere 'created thing.'

From the Mountain of God in the Garden of Eden to the spiritual Mount Zion you have a creation, fall, and a rising to a higher level. Even in the four states of man the first state of Adam before the fall is not the equal of the state of eschatological glorification. The fourth state is higher than the first state. Adam would have merited eschatological glorification if he'd been obedient during his probationary test, which he obviously wasn't. Yet man attains what Adam lost by having saving faith in Jesus who wins it for us.

I digress, but this overall pattern of creation on high, fall, re-connection and return by degree, then final state of eschatological glorification explains God's motive. He wants real beings who have real love for Him. He doesn't want created robots with robotic love for Him. (The parable of the talents should light a fire under all Christians, I say cryptically...referencing the subject of active, progressive sanctification, the big weak subject of all Christians who are yet able to know the truth otherwise...)

The reconnecting part is the internal 'turning' that has to take place. Repentance. Getting above the internal tyranny of vanity and worldly pride and self-will. Recognizing chain-of-command (recognizing and accepting that there is something higher than 'you'). The Doctrines of Grace, in all their anti-intuitive, seeming illogical nature (God's wisdom is foolishness to man) describe this internal turning, when they are seen and accepted and acted on.

And the fact of reprobation and hell just makes it all real. Real consequences. (The typical biblical mystery and tension between God's sovereignty in predestination and man's free agency aside...) If this element didn't exist none of the results would be real... Work out your salvation with fear and trembling...

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