...bettering of man's state
. Here we have the following: 1) sovereign, divine imposition; 2) representation by Adam (i.e., federal or covenantal headship), a sinless image-bearing son of God; 3) a conditional element (i.e., obedience); 4) a penalty for disobedience (i.e., death); and 5) a promise of reward (i.e., eschatological potentional or "betterment").
When Adam, as a Federal Head (see CHAPTER 6), was placed in the Garden, he was told to obey upon the threat of punishment. Life and blessing were not simply given to him; he had to earn the enjoyment of that which he had and the higher blessing which awaited him by his obedience in his time of probation (which the Bible does not say how long it would have lasted). Simply said, Adam had to obey for the blessing; disobey for the curse.
As the Federal Head for the whole human race, his disobedience brought condemnation upon all men (Rom. 5:12-21). Had he obeyed and earned eternal life, his righteousness would have been credited to all his posterity, much like Christ's (see Romans 5:12-21). The Covenant of Works does not imply that God treated Adam strictly according his works. Our Confession declares that God condescended Himself, even before the Fall, to make a covenant with Adam. Every covenant of God is a condescension and seasoned with grace. God was far more gracious to Adam even in Adam's innocence than he deserved. Indeed, God has no obligation to bless man, but He condescends to do that for His glory and the joy of man. It was of grace that God walked with Adam in the Garden, that God revealed Himself to Adam and communed with him. Thus, a covenant of works or the Covenant of Works does not teach that every part of Adam's blessed life had to be earned. No, it has a specific point. Adam was given a command to obey for life. If he disobeyed he would've brought death—which he did. He had to obey to earn life for himself and for all his descendants after him, whom he represented as the Federal Head.
Furthermore, notice what the Confession says: although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant. The Confession speaks of the reward of life, which in this case was what was promised to Adam had he obeyed. But notice that this reward of life is not due to man's obedience deserving that. But it is God's arragement to bless and reward that obedience because of His promise and condescension. This condescension of God, which He expresses by way of covenant, is most voluntary and free. There is no obligation placed upon God to be gracious or to commune with man. It is His mere good pleasure and will to do so.
Concerning the blessings and obedience of and within the Covenant of Works, John Owen writes the following:
The covenant of works had its promises, but they were all remunerative [profitable, rewarding], respecting an antecedent obedience in us; (so were all those which were peculiar to the covenant of Sinai). They were, indeed, also of grace, in that the reward did infinitely exceed the merit of our obedience; but yet they all supposed it [our obedience], and the subject of them was formally reward only.
No covenant of God with man is ever strictly based on only man's works. God is gracious in all of His works and dealings with man.
An aspect which makes the Covenant ...