A colleague and I were talking today about John Murray’s work on what he called “creation ordinances,” the mandates placed on human behavior by God before the Fall.
Here is Murray’s summary in Principles of Conduct (1957, 27)
We have had occasion already to refer to the commandments or mandates given to man in the state of integrity. These creation ordinances, as we may call them, are the procreation of offspring, the replenishing of the earth, subduing of the same, dominion over the creatures, labour, the weekly Sabbath, and marriage. When we consider them and seek to assess their significance, we discover how relevant they are to the elementary instincts of man and to the interests that lay closest to his heart, how inclusive they are in respect of the occupations which would have engaged man’s thought and action, and how intimately related they are one to another. Implied in the institution of procreation are the acts and processes for both man and woman by which the mandate was to be carried into effect and the family and social responsibilities resulting from the fulfilment of the mandate. We have to envisage also the far-reaching implications for the structure of society. When we consider the second mandate, the replenishing of the earth, we must appreciate that the geographical expansion involved was not merely for the purpose of filling the earth with people, but also for the purpose of subduing the earth and its resources, and of exercising dominion over the fisth of the sea, the fowl of the air, and everything that moves upon the face of the earth. There is a complementation of these mandates and they interpenetrate one another. [emphases mine]
For Murray, all of biblical ethics spring from these original ordinances for human life. Because of the fall of humanity, the pursuit of these ordinances is hindered and frustrated by the curse, but they are still the best description of the activities that should mark the lives of those made in the image of God.
As the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45-49; cf. Romans 5:12-21), Jesus has succeeded where Adam failed, redeeming those who believe in him, and empowering them by his Spirit to glorify God as those made in his image.
What is so effective about the notion of creation ordinances is how they inform all of human life, including everything from relationships to vocation and worship. In a world of increasing fragmentation and specialization, one must relish the unifying ideas whenever we stumble upon them.