This article was written by Rev. Herman Hoeksema and published in the very first issue of the Standard Bearer, dated October 1924.
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.—Gen. 2:16
Light and darkness, good and evil, holiness and corruption, righteousness and iniquity, life and death,—these are, according to the word of God, not to be conceived and explained in a dualistic sense and manner.
Dualism, in whatever form it may appear, deals with the problem of God's relation to the world and of the origin of evil. And the foundation of all dualistic systems of theology is the doctrine of two primal causes in continual conflict with each other. Thus among the Persians a dualistic system was either originated or modified from older forms by Zoroaster. According to him there are two principles, Ormuzd and Ahriman. The former is pure and infinite light, perfection, wisdom, and the creator of every good thing. The latter is the principle and originator of darkness and evil. The history of the world is chiefly the record of the antagonism between these two primal principles of good and evil. This dualistic conception and mode of thinking sometimes insinuated itself to a certain extent into the thinking of the primitive church, as for instance in the Docetic phase of Gnosticism and in Manicheism, though the latter utterly disclaimed being denominated Christian. And one cannot escape the impression that even today many conceive of the antithesis between God and the devil, good and evil light and darkness in this dualistic way.
This, however, is a mistake. Scripture teaches no dualism, but an antithesis. There are no two primal causes and eternal principles, constantly warring with each other, but God is one. He alone is eternal and the primal cause and there is no other eternal principle or primal cause next to him. Neither is he both good and evil, nor are the principles of good and evil to be traced to his being, for he is a light and there is no darkness in him. But this good and glorious God according to his eternal and sovereign good pleasure wills to reveal his praises, his eternally adorable virtue antithetically, that is, in opposition to darkness. Darkness, evil, sin are not primal principles, eternally coordinate with light, goodness, righteousness, but the former are subservient to the latter, darkness must serve to bring out the glory of the light, the devil serves to enhance the unsearchable riches of God's being and virtues and works.
In the light of this idea of an antithesis we can understand the placing of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” in paradise. By means of it, God carries the antithesis into the life and before the consciousness of man, made after his image.
Adam was God’s covenant friend. He stood in covenant relation to his God. This covenant relation is not to be conceived as a sort of contract or alliance between God and Adam, mechanically established. We do not read of a contract between them according to which each agreed to live and not in relation to the other. On the contrary, the covenant relation is rooted in man’s very creation, and is established the moment Adam stands as image bearer of God in the garden of Eden.
For a true understanding of the covenant relation we must have our attention focused upon God himself. He is a covenant God, apart from any relation to his creature, in and by himself, as the triune God and lives from eternity to eternity the perfect covenant life. He is triune. Essentially God is one. There are no three Gods. There are no three divine essences, natures, wills, minds, hearts, lives. On the contrary, the divine essence and nature, with all the glorious attributes thereof, is absolutely a unity. But subsisting in this one divine being, nature, mind, will, heart, and living this one divine life, there are three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. They are personally distinct and yet essentially one. In essence and nature they are absolutely equal. And this equality of the three persons of the holy Trinity is not to be conceived as if each possessed a part of the divine nature, but thus that all three are subsisting in one and the same being and nature. They are of one mind, of one will, of one heart, of one life in the most absolute sense of the word. There is the most absolute equality of essence and nature by personal distinction. And thus there exists the most perfect union and the most intimate communion between Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The three persons of the holy Trinity live the perfect life of divine friendship from eternity to eternity in absolute communion. God is a covenant God and lives the perfect covenant life.
A reflection of this covenant life of God there is in the relation God establishes between himself and the creature made after his own image. In his own image and after his own likeness God made man. He does not make man God, he does not make him share in the divine essence. This is the error of Pantheism. But he does create for him a nature, essentially different from his own, but nevertheless endowed with a likeness of his own nature. He makes him to look like himself. The creaturely nature of man he endows with such attributes and clothes with such glory that he reflected God’s nature in his own and that on the basis of this he was adapted to live in most intimate communion with his God. Even as the essential oneness in God is the divine basis for the covenant life between the three persons of the holy Trinity, so the likeness of God in man constitutes the basis as far as man is concerned for the covenant life between God and man. He is a being so created that he may know God as he is known, love God as he is loved, live the life of God in a creaturely way and according to the capacity of the creature, walk with God and talk with God, dwell with him under one roof, commune with him as a friend with his friend. And not only was Adam created a being adapted to this communion of friendship, but he was actually placed in that communion in paradise. Standing in his original, unmarred knowledge, righteousness and holiness he lived as God’s covenant friend.
Only, it should never be forgotten, that man was also servant. He was not God but creature. God remained his sovereign even though he was also his friend. And man remained God’s servant even though he might walk with God and talk with him and call him his friend. Hence, man’s calling was to serve God in that relation of covenant friendship, with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. As God’s prophet he was to know him and speak for him in loving adoration, declaring his praises. As God’s priest he was to love him and consecrate himself and all things to him. As God’s king, he was to bow in love before God’s sovereignty and reign with him and for him and under him over the works of his hands. Man was God’s friend servant.
In all this, however, there was no antithesis. Unless another element were introduced into Adam’s life, his calling was purely positive. His entire nature was adapted to this positive covenant life of friendly service. All his thoughts and desires and aspirations were directed solely toward God. He loved God but without another element this love of God would not reveal itself as hatred of all that is anti-God. He willed God’s will, but as it was he would not be called to reject that which was in opposition to this will. He walked in the light but this light would not present itself to his consciousness in its antithetical relation to darkness, unless another element was carried into his life. The one master he served, but not with rejection of the other.
Yet, it was God’s will over man that he should choose him, his friendship, his service in distinction from, in contrast with, with rejection of all that was opposed to him. God himself is a light and there is no darkness in him. Man, his image bearer, his covenant friend must also reveal that he loves the light and hates the darkness. He must be of God’s party. And for this purpose the antithesis is placed before him in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There is antithesis in the very name of the tree. For the name “tree of knowledge of good and evil” does not designate as the devil interpreted it, that by eating of it he would attain to a divine knowledge of good and evil. Neither does it signify that by eating thereof man would acquire an experimental knowledge of good and evil. But in the way of obedience, by refusing to eat of the tree, for God his friend’s sake, man would know the good in opposition to evil, light in opposition to darkness, life in opposition to death, God in opposition to the devil. Hence, God's prohibitive will is connected with that particular tree, thus creating an antithesis in Adam’s life. This antithesis is presently made more distinct when the devil enters into the conflict. He is the prince of darkness and carries his darkness to the tree. He is Satan, the adversary of God and presents his opposition to God to man’s mind in connection with the tree. He is the devil, the liar, the slanderer of God and offers his slanderous presentation of God in his interpretation of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The antithesis was introduced in man’s life. His calling as God’s covenant friend now was not only to serve the one master, but also to reject the other, to love the light and hate darkness, to choose the good and reject evil.
And by so doing he would show himself to be of God’s party, God’s friend, indeed. And in that relation he would be blessed by his sovereign friend and live.