Archive for the ‘Covenant of Works’ Category

The Real Turretin on Covenant of Grace and Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant

January 6, 2012

Kerux, Volume 24, Number 3, p. 76, FN70 (Dennison et al.):

[O]ur editors have summarized Turretin as teaching that “the form of the Mosaic covenant was the covenant of works, but its substance was the covenant of grace” (12). This muddles Turretin’s otherwise careful distinctions regarding the administration of the covenant of grace under Moses, and oversimplifies his rather complex formulation. It is true that Turretin argues that the Mosaic administration contained a restatement of a “form of the covenant of works” to remind Israel of the broken covenant of works and to lead them to Christ (2:263). But Turretin later clarifies that by “form of the covenant of works,” he is referencing “the law in itself” apart from the Mosaic covenant (2:269). This he distinguishes from “the Mosaic covenant itself, in which the law was enacted” (ibid.). This administration included not only this “legal relation” but also an “evangelical relation,” which was “sweeter” in that it led them to Christ (2:227). Thus, Turretin calls this administration a “mixture of both the law and the Gospel” (2:263). As he says elsewhere: “And thus in sweet harmony the law and the gospel meet together in this covenant. The law is not administered without the gospel, nor is the gospel without the law. So that it is as it were a legal-gospel and an evangelical-law; a gospel full of obedience and a law full of faith” (2:268). In short, our editors summary of Turretin’s view of the Mosaic covenant is at best severely truncated, and at worst, misleading. It fails to grapple with Turretin’s own stated definitions, and oversimplifies Turretin’s complex (though very precise) views.

I don’t post this comment to endorse it (I haven’t carefully enough studied Turretin’s relevant writings to form a conclusion), but simply as an interesting point worthy of further consideration. Turretin’s careful distinctions are one of his principle advantages and following them is critically important in understanding his writing.



Republication of the Covenant of Works

November 29, 2011

There is a sense in which the Mosaic law (or a portion thereof) is a republication of the covenant of works.  More could be said about that point, but it has recently come to my attention that there is an overture to create an OPC study committee (for a single presbytery, if I understand the overture) to study the issue of republication (link to page).  While I think it is a profitable study, and one that may help (when properly understood and explained) resolve the differences between Presbyterians and covenantal Reformed Baptists, I’m not sure whether the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest has sufficient manpower for the job.  I hope that others will rise to the occasion to assist in this task of studying this important issue.  Please pray that this study, if approved, will benefit both the particular presbytery but also the body of Christ at large.


The real Francis Turretin on: The Mosaic Covenant

September 15, 2009

Michael Brown at Pilgrim People has an interesting post in which he discusses the real Francis Turretin’s view of the Mosaic covenant (aka Siniatic Covenant)(link). I believe that the Thomas Goodwin blog actually delved into this subject a bit more deeply a while back (post 1post 2), nevertheless it is still an interesting topic. Brown is in the midst of an ongoing (I think) series on the topic of the relationship of the Mosaic covenant to the covenant of grace and the covenant of works. His blog seems to have a bit of the two-kingdoms and redemptive-historical influence, but there is a lot of interesting reading material to be found there.


The Real Turretin on: Covenant of Works – Reward for Obedience

August 27, 2008

Joshua Lim at Reformed Blogging has provided an interesting quotation from the real Turretin on the Reward of Life that would have been given to Adam for his obedience for as long as he continued in obedience (link).


Cur Deus Homo? Further Response to Horne

August 10, 2008

Gene Bridges provided the following comments (link) which I have reproduced in part below:

As you noted, stating that the Covenant of Grace is in some way “conditional” or “conditioned” on faith does not lead to it being (a) meritorious or (b) pactum merit. Indeed that’s a non sequitur.

Turretin (the real one) went over this as hyper-Calvinism arose among the Supras/High Calvinists of his period. FT distinguished between faith as a meritorious condition and faith as an instrumental condition. We affirm the latter, not the former. Since the reason people believe is due to effectual calling/regeneration and that is only by way of grace that is applied by the Spirit, which comes a result of the atonement, which was accomplished by the Son in obedience to the Father (notice the Trinitarian relation-a relation the FVists often discuss), it is all of grace, as you say. Ergo, while affirming the latter (instrumental conditionality) we deny the former (that the CoG would be meritorious).

FT drew this distinction of conditions in the face of those who were seeking to collapse the decrees, and thus the conditions, into one, and therefore misconstruing the CoG. By collapsing the decrees, there were questions that arose as to the nature of conditions. In their day, they were asking if the CoG is wholly unconditional or conditional. FT’s reply was in essence that it is unconditional with respect to merit (being that it is of grace) yet conditional with respect to instrumentality. Sound like a familiar problem today…?

I answer:

Gene, there is a strong interconnect between the issue of faith’s role as condition or instrument (as well as the nature/basis of the hypothetical merit of Adam and the actual merit of the active obedience of Christ), and the issue of the atonement.

It is interesting to hear Pastor Horne turning as he does in the comments we were discussing (link) to Anselm’s “Cur Deus Homo,” which is usually thought of as a work on the atonement.

It seems that:

a) He (i.e. Pastor Horne) overlooks the role of sin in necessitating the incarnation. Contrary to Hodge et al., he seems to imagine that it is simply the fact that we are creatures that prevents us from having merit. Thus, he overlooks original sin: both in its effect of imputed guilt and in its effect of total depravity.

b) He also overlooks that Anselm states “Now it is not by any means to be supposed that the good angels were confirmed by the fall of the evil, but by their own merit. For as the good, if they had sinned with the evil, would have been condemned together with them; so the unrighteous, had they remained steadfast with the just, would have been equally confirmed in grace. For if some of them were to be confirmed only by the fall of others, either none would ever be confirmed, or it would be necessary that one should fall, who should be punished for the sake of the confirmation of the others; both of which are absurd.” (Cur Deus Homo, Book 1, Chapter XVII) While I do not fully agree with Anselm on this (I do not think confirmation in obedience was according to the merit of obedience, but according to grace) Pastor Horne’s appeal to Anselm is clearly erroneous, for Anselm does not build his argument on the theory that creatures qua creatures are unable to obtain merit of any kind.

c) He also overlooks that Anselm states: “So, therefore, when the angel had the power of depriving himself of righteousness, and did not so deprive himself, and had the power of causing himself not to be righteous, and did not so cause himself, he is rightly asserted to have given himself his own righteousness, and to have made himself righteous. In this way, therefore, has he his righteousness from himself, (for a creature can in no other way have it from himself,) and on that account is he to be praised for his righteousness; and he is righteous, not from necessity, but from free will, since that is improperly termed necessity in which there is neither
compulsion nor prohibition.” (Cur Deus Homo, Book 2, Chapter X) This, while not using the word “merit,” conveys a similar concept. As can be seen from the same chapter, a little further on, when Anselm asks the following penetrating question: “What do you say of God, who cannot sin; (and yet He did not merit this by having had the power of sinning and not sinning) is not He to be praised for His righteousness?”

Likewise, Pastor Horne appears to have the same thing in mind when he argues “Horton, if I recall, is all concerned about protecting Christ’s merit. I don’t see how that can fail to be proper merit without denying the absolute necessity of Christ’s work. There is a history of doing so among some of the Reformed, but I think it is now largely resisted and should be.” (source) But in this:

d)He overlooks that the merit of Christ’s active obedience in fulfilling the law is pactum merit. It is by the covenant of works that Christ as man deserves life on account of his obedience. That’s what makes his death significant. If he did not merit life, he would be dying for himself.

e) He also overlooks that Christ’s so-called passive obedience in suffering and dying on the cross can also be viewed pactum merit. It is not pactum merit vis-a-vis the covenant of works, but the covenant of grace. Christ’s humiliation is the condition of the covenant of grace (not our faith, as has already been distinguished in the preceding posts on this subject). It should be noted of course, that as Thomas Boston explains:

Secondly, How does the narrow way lead to life ? And,
1st. NEG. Not by way of merit, proper or improper. Proper merit is what arises from the intrinsic worth of the thing done, fully proportioned to the reward. Such is the merit of Christ’s obedience and death. But no such merit can be in our works ; for there is no proportion between our obedience and eternal life, whatever the papists pretend; Rom. viii. 18; 2 Cor. iv. 17; and whatever they be, they are due from us to God; Rom. viii. 12; Luke xvii. 10. Improper merit is what arises from paction ensuring such a reward on such a work as the condition thereof; so that the work being performed, the reward becomes a debt. So Adam’s perfect obedience would have been meritorious, namely by paction. But no such merit is in our works. Legal protestants advance this, though they do not call it merit, while they pretend that God has promised eternal life on condition of our obedience; thinking it enough to free them from the doctrine of merit, that they do not pretend to an intrinsic worth in the works, proportioned to the reward. But what more do they yield in this, than innocent Adam behoved to have yielded, had he perfected his obedience? Do they not hereby confound the two covenants? for all the difference remains only in degrees, which do not alter the kind. The scripture rejects this as well as the other;
Rom. iv. 4, and vi. 23. Paul would not lippen to it; Phil. iii. 9.

(Thomas Boston, Whole Works of the Late Reverend Thomas Boston, Volume X, p. 376 – 1851 ed.)

Thus, we acknowledge that Christ’s death, as the God-man, was (because of the dignity of his person) of infinite intrinsic merit, although we likewise acknowledge that such merit would have been completely without applicable value, if God had not condescended (as legislator) to permit substitution of the offender in the punishment of sin. In contrast, the dignity of a mere image of God is much less demanding only life for life (Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.).

f) Indeed, he overlooks the interconnection between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The only way that the death of an innocent man can be pleasing to God is upon the two-fold bases that (a) the innocent man’s death is being offered on behalf of someone else and (b) that the someone else is guilty.

g) He overlooks the general impossibility of anyone meriting anything from God in the strict sense. To assert that anyone can merit (in the strict sense) anything from God would seem to be a denial of the impassivity of God. If someone will argue from Christ’s deity that impassivity is not implicated, we may likewise note that Christ did all things whatsoever he did in obedience to the will of the Father, which likewise prevents them from being acts of strict merit (though we may note that they were still deserving of glory).

At the end of the day, it is Horne who overlooks why God had to become man: the covenant of works (the law) had to be fulfilled, and so did the covenant of grace. By the merit obtained under the covenant of works, and the substitution permitted under the covenant of grace, Christ merited life for those for whom he died.

It was necessary because Christ’s righteousness is the only pure righteousness acceptable to God under the covenants. No other righteousness will do: not the righteousness of the Apostles, of the prophets, or of the greatly blessed and highly favored mother of our Lord – for they were all sinners, both by virtue of Adam’s sin (as it is written, Romans 5:19 “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”) and their own sin (as it is written, Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”). Only Christ’s righteousness can save, and it can and does save completely. God graciously accepts Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of those for whom it is offered by Christ. Thus, justice is satisfied while mercy is shown.

Praise be to our Loving God,


P.S. Perhaps it would of interest to some of my readers to provide a part of a poem by Ralph Erskine:

The law of works we introduce,
As if old merit were in use,
When man could life by doing won,
Ev’n though the work by grace were done.

Old Adam in his innocence
Deriv’d his power of doing hence —
As all he could was wholly due;
So all the working strength he knew,

No merit but of paction could
Of men or angels e’er be told;
The God-man only was so high
To merit by condignity.

Were life now promis’d to our act,
Or to our works by paction tack’d ;
Though God should his assistance grant,
Tis still a doing covenant.

Though Heav’n its helping grace should yield,
Yet merit’s still upon the field;
We cast the name, yet still ’tis found
Disclaim’d but with a verbal sound.

If one should borrow tools from you.
That he some famous work might do;
When once his work is well prepar’d,
He sure deserves his due reward:

Yea, justly may he claim his due,
Although he borrow’d tools from you:
Ev’n thus the borrow’d strength of grace
Can’t hinder merit to take place.

From whence soe’er we borrow pow’rs,
If life depend on works of ours;
Or if we make the gospel thus
In any sort depend on us;

We give the law the gospel-place,
Rewards of debt the room of grace;
We mix Heav’ns treasure with our trash,
And magnify corrupted flesh.

Gospel Sonnets, pp. 301-02 (1870 ed.), Ralph Erskine

Response to Objections Regarding Merit and the Covenant of Works

August 9, 2008

In Paul’s epistles to the Romans and Galatians, Paul drives home a message of the futility of works to provide merit, and the need for grace. This message is an important aspect of the gospel, for those who seek salvation through works will perish:

Romans 9:31-33
31But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. 32Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; 33As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

One of the Reformed criticisms of Catholicism is its emphasis on works, i.e. on legalism. On the other hand, Reformed apologists have had to address those erring in the other direction, the antinomians. The Antinomians acknowledge the futility of works, but then improperly conclude that consequently the law is to be ignored.

Less dramatic than either of those departures from orthodox theology is the Arminian position. One of the consistent Reformed criticisms of the Arminian position is that it converts faith into a work, and makes faith the meritorious cause of salvation. Thus, while Arminians would affirm the futility of works for salvation, they inconsistently undo that affirmation by converting faith into a work. It should be noted that some of the papists have done the same more boldly by substituting “faithfulness” (i.e. obedience) in place of faith.

The Arminian error in this regard seems to stem from a lack of appreciation of the relation both between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, as well as from a lack of appreciation of the difference in the way in which life is received in the two covenants. But it is not Arminians alone that seem to have this problem.

I recently came across comments from two pastors (both of whom signed the Federal Vision Joint Statement – and both of whom apparently are pastors at a PCA church – link) that exhibited something of the same misunderstanding. These men, of course, would not be considered Arminians, and I suspect would be gravely offended if someone were to call them such a name.

Here are their comments:

Jeff Meyers wrote:

If all you mean by “meritorious” is that an act or action fulfills the terms of a particular covenant, then faith is meritorious in the covenant of grace because it is required, according to the terms of the covenant, for attaining eternal life. If Adam’s obedience “would have been the meritorious cause of his obtaining life,” according to the terms of that pre-fall covenant, then our faith is the meritorious cause for obtaining life in the covenant of grace. After all, we’re not talking about “strict merit.” That is one of Mark’s major problems with all this merit talk.


Mark Horne likewise wrote:

Finally, whether or not the Westminster Standards ought to claim faith is a condition of the covenant of grace, the [sic] do so. This means that faith is pactum merit, and would allow us to say that faith is “improperly” meritorious.

(source – same combox)

The parallel these gentlemen are making (1) demonstrates a misunderstanding of the Westminster standards, and (2) undermines the law/grace distinction.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, I’ll provide a quotation:

3. Nevertheless, the good works of sincere believers are, like their persons, in spite of their imperfections, accepted, because of their union with Christ Jesus, and rewarded for his sake. All our approaches to God are made through Christ. It is only through him that we have access to the Father by the Spirit. Eph. ii. 18. “Whatever we do, “in word or deed,” we are commanded to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Col. iii. 17.
As to the relation of good works to rewards, it may be observed —
1.) The word “merit,” in the strict sense of the term, means that common quality of all actions or services to which a reward is due, in strict justice, on account of their intrinsic value or worthiness. It is evident that, in this strict sense, no work of any creature can in itself merit any reward from God ; because — (a.) All the faculties he possesses were originally granted and are continuously sustained by God, so that he is already so far in debt to God that he can never bring God in debt to him. (b.) Nothing the creature can do can be a just equivalent for the incomparable favour of God and its consequences.
2.) There is another sense of the word, however, in which it may be affirmed that if Adam had in his original probation yielded the obedience required, he would have “merited” the reward conditioned upon it, not because of the intrinsic value of that obedience, but because of the terms of the covenant which God had graciously condescended to form with him. By nature, the creature owed the Creator obedience, while the Creator owed the creature nothing. But by covenant the Creator voluntarily bound himself to owe the creature eternal life, upon the condition of perfect obedience.
It is evident that in this life the works of God’s people can have no merit in either of the senses above noticed. They can have no merit intrinsically, because they are all imperfect, and therefore themselves worthy of punishment rather than of reward. They can have no merit by covenant concession on God’s part, because we are not now standing in God’s sight in the covenant of works, but of grace, and the righteousness of Christ, received by faith alone, constitutes the sole meritorious ground upon which our salvation, in all of its stages, rests. See chapter xi., on Justification.
In the dispensation of the gospel, the gracious work of the believer and the gracious reward he receives from God are branches from the same gracious root. The same covenant of grace provides at once for the infusion of grace in the heart, the exercise of grace in the life, and the reward of the grace so exercised. It is all of grace – a grace called a reward added to a grace called a work. The one grace is set opposite to the other grace as a reward, for these reasons: (a.) To act upon us as a suitable stimulus to duty. God promises to reward the Christian just as a father promises to reward his child for doing what is its duty, and what is for its own benefit alone. (b.) Because a certain gracious proportion has been established between the grace given in the reward and the grace given in the holy exercises of the heart and life; but both are alike given for Christ’s sake. This proportion has been established — the more grace of obedience, the more grace of reward — the more grace on earth, the more glory in heaven — because God so wills it, and because the grace given and exercised in obedience prepares the soul for the reception of the further grace given in the reward. Matt. xvi. 27; 1 Cor. iii. 8; 2 Cor. iv. 17.

(A.A. Hodge, A Commentary on the Confession of Faith, commentary on Sections IV-VI of Chapter XVI of the WCF, pp. 226-28, 1870 ed.)

What A.A. Hodge is explaining is that there is:

a) Strict merit (which man can never have); amd
b) Pactum merit (which Adam had).

Neither is applicable to a believer, because the covenant of grace is all of grace. Thus, it is written:

John 1:16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.

And this is essential to the law/grace division, as John’s gospel continues:

John 1:17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

But perhaps some more explanation would be helpful:

In entering upon the exposition of this section, it is proper to remark, that, at the period when our Confession was framed, it was generally held by the most eminent divines, that there are two covenants connected with the salvation of men, which they called the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace; the former made with Christ from everlasting, the latter made with sinners in time; the righteousness of Christ being the condition of the former, and faith the condition of the latter covenant. This distinction, we conceive, has no foundation in the Sacred Scriptures, and it has long since been abandoned by all evangelical divines. The first Adam is said to have been a figure of Christ, who is called the second Adam. Now, there was not one covenant made with Adam, the condition of which he was to perform, and another made with his posterity, the condition of which they were to fulfill; but one covenant included both him and them. It was made with him as their representative, and with them as represented in and by him. In like manner, one covenant includes Christ and his spiritual seed. The Scriptures, accordingly, everywhere speak of it as one covenant, and the blood of Christ is repeatedly called “the blood of the covenant,” not of the covenants, as we may presume it would have been called, if it had been the condition of a covenant of redemption and the foundation of a covenant of grace. — Heb. x. 29, xiii. 20. By the blood of the same covenant Christ made satisfaction, and we obtain deliverance. — Zech. ix. 11. We hold, therefore, that there is only one covenant for the salvation of fallen men, and that this covenant was made with Christ before the foundation of the world. The Scriptures, indeed, frequently speak of God making a covenant with believers, but this language admits of an easy explication, in consistency with the unity of the covenant. “The covenant of grace,” says a judicious writer [Wilson of London], “was made with Christ in a strict and proper sense, as he was the party-contractor in it, and undertook to fulfill the condition of it. It is made with believers in an improper sense, when they are taken into the bond of it, and come actually to enjoy the benefit of it. How it is made with them may be learned from the words of the apostle, — Acts xiii. 34 : ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David,’ which is a kind of paraphrase upon that passage, — Is. lv. 3 : ‘I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.’ God makes the covenant with them, not by requiring anything of them in order to entitle them or lay a foundation for their claim to the blessings of it, but by making these over to them as a free gift, and putting them in possession of them, as far as their present state will admit, by a faith of his own operation.”
The supposition of two covenants for the salvation of mankind sinners, is encumbered with various difficulties. One is obvious. In every proper covenant, there are two essential parts — a conditionary and a promissory. If, therefore, there be a covenant made with sinners, different from the covenant made with Christ, it must have a condition which they themselves must perform. But though our old divines called faith the condition of the covenant made with sinners, they did not assign any merit to faith, but simply precedence. “The truth is,” as Dr Dick has remarked,” that what these divines call the covenant of grace, is merely the administration of what they call the covenant of redemption, for the purpose of communicating its blessings to those for whom they were intended; and cannot be properly considered as a covenant, because it is not suspended upon a proper condition.” The “Westminster Assembly, in this section, appear to describe what was then usually designated the covenant of grace, as distinguished from the covenant of redemption. But, though they viewed the covenant under a twofold consideration, as made with the Surety from everlasting, and as made with sinners in time, they certainly regarded it as one and the same covenant. “The covenant of grace,” say they, “was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” The doctrine of our standards on this deeply interesting subject, may be summed up in the following propositions: —
1. That a covenant was entered into between Jehovah the Father and his co-eternal Son, respecting the salvation of sinners of mankind. The reality of this federal transaction, appears from Ps. lxxxix. 3: “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant.” The speaker, in this passage, can be no other but the Lord, who is mentioned in the beginning of the Psalm; and it cannot reasonably be questioned, that the words spoken have their ultimate and principal fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and assert a covenant made with him, of which the covenant of royalty made with David, King of Israel, was typical. In other places of Scripture, though the word covenant does not occur, we have a plain intimation of all the essential parts of a proper covenant. In Is. liii. 10, we have the two great parts of the covenant — the conditionary and the promissory; and the two glorious contracting parties — the one undertaking for the performance of its arduous condition — the other engaging for the fulfillment of its precious promises: “If his soul shall make a propitiatory sacrifice, he shall see a seed which shall prolong their days; and the gracious purpose of Jehovah shall prosper in his hands.” — (Bishop Lowth’s Translation.)
2. That this covenant was made with Christ, as the head, or representative, of his spiritual seed. This is confirmed by the comparison between Christ and Adam, which is stated by the apostle, — Rom. v.; 1 Cor. xv. 45, 47; which clearly establishes the truth, that Adam and Christ severally sustained a public character, as the federal heads of their respective seeds. Christ and his spiritual seed are called by the same name (Isa. xlix. 3), — a plain evidence of God’s dealing with him as their representative in the covenant. Christ is likewise called the Surety of the covenant (Heb. vii. 22); and the promises of the covenant were primarily made to him — Gal. iii. 16; Tit. i. 2.
3. That this covenant originated in the free grace and sovereign will of God. The Scriptures uniformly ascribe this transaction to the good pleasure of Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will, and represent it as conducing to the praise of the glory of his grace. — Eph. i. 3-6. On this account this covenant is, with great propriety, called the covenant of grace, because it originated in the free grace of God, and conveys the blessings of salvation to sinners in a manner the most gratuitous.
4. That this covenant was established from eternity. The covenant of grace is called the second covenant, as distinguished from the covenant of works made with Adam; but though the second in respect of manifestation and execution, yet, with respect either to the period or the order in which it was made, it is the first covenant. The Head of this covenant is introduced (Prov. viii. 23), saying, “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, ere ever the earth was;” i.e., he was set apart to his mediatory office and work, covenant of grace from everlasting. The promise of eternal life is said to have been given us in Christ “before the world began” (Tit. i. 2); and the covenant is frequently styled an everlasting covenant. — Heb. xiii. 20.
5. In the administration of this covenant, God “freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved.” Though Christ, in this covenant, represented only a definite number of mankind, who were “chosen in him before the foundation of the world,” yet, in the administration of the covenant, a free offer of salvation by Jesus Christ is addressed to sinners of mankind indefinitely and universally. — John vi. 32; Is. lv. 1; Rev. xxii. 17. This offer is not restricted, as Baxterians allege, to sensible sinners, or those who are convinced of their sin, and their need of the Saviour; for it is addressed to persons sunk in total insensibility as to their own miseries and wants. — Rev. iii. 17, 18. This offer is made as really to those who eventually reject it, as it is to those who eventually receive it; for, if this were not the case, the former class of gospel-hearers could not be condemned for their unbelief. — John iii. 18, 19.
That God “requires of sinners faith in Christ that they may be saved,” admits of no dispute. The part assigned to faith, however, has been much controverted. Many excellent divines, in consequence of the distinction which they made between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, were led to speak of faith as the condition of the latter covenant. But the term, as used by them, signifies not a meritorious or procuring cause, but simply something which goes before, and without which the other cannot be obtained. They consider faith merely as a condition of order or connection, as it has been styled, and as an instrument or means of obtaining an interest in the salvation offered in the gospel. This is very different from the meaning attached to the term by Arminians and Neonomians, who represent faith as a condition on the fulfillment of which the promise is suspended. The Westminster Assembly elsewhere affirm, that God requires of sinners faith in Christ, “as the condition to interest them in him.” But this is very different from affirming that faith is the condition of the covenant of grace. That faith is indispensably necessary as the instrument by which we are savingly interested in Christ, and personally instated in the covenant, is a most important truth, and this is all that is intended by the Westminster divines. They seem to have used the term condition as synonymous with instrument; for, while in one place they speak of faith as the condition to interest sinners in the Mediator, in other places they affirm, that “faith is the alone instrument of justification,” and teach, that “faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.” As the word condition is ambiguous, apt to be misunderstood, and is frequently employed in an unsound and dangerous sense, it is now disused by evangelical divines.
6. That God promises his Holy Spirit to work in his elect that faith by which they come to have a special interest in the blessings of this covenant. This implies, that a certain definite number were ordained to eternal life, and that all these shall in due time be brought to believe in Christ. — Acts xiii. 48. It also implies, that they are in themselves unwilling and unable to believe (John vi. 44); but God promises to give them the Holy Spirit to make them willing and able. — Ezek. xxxvi. 26. Faith, therefore, instead of being the condition of the covenant of grace, belongs to the promissory part of the covenant. — Rom. xv. 12. It is the gift of God, who worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.— Eph. ii. 8; Phil. ii. 13.

(Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Confession of Faith of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, pp. 88-92, Eighth ed. 1867, commentary on Chapter VII, Section III of the WCF)

I would draw the reader’s attention particularly to the following excerpt from the above discussion:

Many excellent divines … were led to speak of faith as the condition of the latter covenant. But the term, as used by them, signifies not a meritorious or procuring cause, but simply something which goes before, and without which the other cannot be obtained. They consider faith merely as a condition of order or connection, as it has been styled, and as an instrument or means of obtaining an interest in the salvation offered in the gospel. This is very different from the meaning attached to the term by Arminians and Neonomians, who represent faith as a condition on the fulfillment of which the promise is suspended. The Westminster Assembly elsewhere affirm, that God requires of sinners faith in Christ, “as the condition to interest them in him.” But this is very different from affirming that faith is the condition of the covenant of grace. That faith is indispensably necessary as the instrument by which we are savingly interested in Christ, and personally instated in the covenant, is a most important truth, and this is all that is intended by the Westminster divines.

Perhaps I should conclude this post with a last selection:

5. Lastly, The covenant of grace doth so exclude our boasting, as the covenant of works did not. This is clear from Rom. iii. 27. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” But if any deed or work of ours be the condition of the covenant of grace, in whole or in part, our beading is not excluded, but hath place therein, as in the covenant of works; the difference being at most but in point of degrees: for, according to the Scripture, it is working, or fulfilling the condition of a covenant, that gives the ground of boasting ; Forasmuch as “to him that worketh, the reward is reckoned of debt:” and life being of or by works in the covenant of works, though not in the way of proper merit, but in the way of paction or compact only, this gave men the ground of boasting in that covenant, according to the Scripture. Therefore, so far as life and salvation are of or by any work or deed of ours, as fulfilling the condition of the covenant of grace, our boasting is not excluded, but hath place therein as in the covenant of works. Wherefore, since the covenant of grace is so framed, as to leave no ground for our boasting, no work or deed of ours, but Christ fulfilling all righteousness, even that alone, is the condition of the covenant of grace: and our life and salvation are neither of works, nor by works, as fulfilling the condition of the covenant: Tit. iii. 5. Not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us. Eph. ii. 9. Not of works, lest any man should boast.

(Thomas Boston, A View of the Covenant of Grace from the Sacred Records, p. 74, 1797 ed.)


Edwards and the Other Hodge on Merit and the Covenant of Works

August 9, 2008

Here are two more folks’ thoughts on merit and covenant of works:

If this principle be correct, if the law demands entire conformity to the nature and will of God, it follows:

1. That there can be no perfection in this life. Every form of perfectionism which has ever prevailed in the Church is founded either on the assumption that the law does not demand entire freedom from moral evil, or upon the denial that anything is of the nature of sin, but acts of the will. But if the law is so extensive in its demands as to pronounce all defect in any duty, all coming short in the purity, ardor, or constancy of holy affections, sinful, then there is an end to the presumption that any mere man since the fall has ever attained perfection.

2. It follows also from this principle that there can never be any merit of good works attributable to men in this world. By merit, according to the Scriptural sense of that word, is meant the claim upon reward as a matter of justice, founded on the complete satisfaction of the demands of the law. But if those demands never have been perfectly fulfilled by any fallen man, no such man can either be justified for his works, or have, as the Apostle expresses it, any καύχημα [kauchema, boasting], any claim founded on merit in the sight of God. He must always depend on mercy and expect eternal life as a free gift of God.

3. Still more obviously does it follow from the principle in question that there can be no such thing as works of supererogation. If no man in this life can perfectly keep the commandments of God, it is very plain that no man can do more than the law demands. The Romanists regard the law as a series of specific enactments. Besides these commands which bind all men there are certain things which they call precepts, which are not thus universally binding, such as celibacy, poverty, and monastic obedience, and the like. These go beyond the law. By adding to the fulfillment of the commands of God, the observance of these precepts, a man may do more than is required of him, and thus acquire an amount of merit greater than he needs for himself, and which in virtue of the communion of saints, belongs to the Church, and may be dispensed, through the power of the keys, for the benefit of others. The whole foundation of this theory is of course removed, if the law demands absolute perfection, to which, even according to their doctrine, no man ever attains in this life. He always is burdened with venial sins, which God in mercy does not impute as real sins, but which nevertheless are imperfections.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, volume 2, pages 185-86 (1872 ed.)

3. It is in this doctrine that the most essential difference lies between the covenant of grace and the first covenant. The adverse scheme of justification supposes that we are justified by our works, in the very same sense wherein man was to have been justified by his works under the first covenant. By that covenant our first parents were not to have had eternal life given them for any proper merit in their obedience; because their perfect obedience was a debt that they owed God. Nor was it to be bestowed for any proportion between the dignity of their obedience, and the value of the reward; but only it was to be bestowed from a regard to a moral fitness in the virtue of their obedience, to the reward of God’s favor; and a title to eternal life was to be given them, as a testimony of God’s pleasedness with their works, or his regard to the inherent beauty of their virtue. And so it is the very same way that those in the adverse scheme suppose that we are received into God’s special favor now, and to those saving benefits that are the testimonies of it. I am sensible the divines of that side entirely disclaim the Popish doctrine of merit; and are free to speak of our utter unworthiness, and the great imperfection of all our services. But after all, it is our virtue, imperfect as it is, that recommends men to God, by which good men come to have a saving interest in Christ, and God’s favor, rather than others; and these things are bestowed in testimony of God’s respect to their goodness. So that whether they will allow the term merit or no, yet they hold, that we are accepted by our own merit, in the same sense, though not in the same degree, as under the first covenant.

(Works of President [Jonathan] Edwards, Volume 5 (of 10), pp. 447-48, 1829 ed.)


Thoughts / Distinctions on Merit and Adam

August 8, 2008

Is the Covenant of Works a covenant based on merit? We affirm.

By the covenant of works, we mean that covenant provided to Adam, which takes the form, “do this and live.” Thus, when we speak of the covenant of works, we are not distinguishing between the New Testament and the Old Testament, but between the Covenant of Works made with Adam and the Covenant of Grace through Christ (under various administrations, prominently the Mosaic and the Apostolic administrations).

By merit we do not mean merit in a strict sense, for merit in a strict sense would require that man give to God something more than God deserves. God, as Creator, deserves perfect obedience. Thus, it is impossible for man ever to have strict merit in the sight of God.

Nevertheless, there is covenantal or “pactum” merit in the Covenant of Works. Thus, God (by virtue of the covenant of works) bound himself to permit man to live if he obeyed. Thus, we do not refer to merited eternal life except upon condition of eternal obedience.

Thus, we do not deal in respect to this question with the issue of whether Adam would have been confirmed in obedience, if he had endured for a period of time in a state of obedience.

Our reasons for believing that there is merit (broadly defined) in the Covenant of Works is as follows:

1) Adam earned/deserved/merited death. Scripture teaches us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The concept of wages implies merit, for wages are earned.

2) Christ earned/deserved/merited life. God had promised, if a man would keep God’s statutes and judgments “he shall live in them: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 18:5) Christ kept them perfectly, and consequently deserved life.

The two principles serve to explain salvation

1) By Adam’s disobedience we have come under the curse of the law, and have further doomed ourselves by our own personal disobedience. (Romans 5:12)
2) Since perfect obedience is the requirement of the law, it is impossible for the demerit (both Adam’s as our federal head and our own) to be overcome by through our own merit obtained through the law. (Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16)
3) But Christ’s death would be a violation of the Covenant of Works, since God promised life to covenant keepers. (Leviticus 18:5)
4) Moreover life for the elect would be a violation of the Covenant of Works, since man deserves death rather than life. (Romans 6:23)
5) Wherefore, Christ voluntarily (John 10:18) took the place (Romans 5:8) of the elect. (Hebrews 12:2)
6) Thereby, He was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21); and
7) We (the elect) were made the righteous of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We refer to this as double imputation. Thus, Christ was slain for us. He is our vicarious, substitutionary atonement. By double-imputation he was punished and we are made free. His merit (and life) becomes our merit, and our demerit (and death) became his.

If the covenant of works is not one of meriting life by obedience (Adam failing), then Christ could not merit life by fulfilling the law. But if Christ did not merit life, then God is not strictly just in giving life to the elect. Yet God is just and the justifier of the elect, namely those who believe in Jesus. (Romans 3:26)

Praise be to our Gracious and Just God,


Was Adam Offered Heavenly Life?

July 21, 2008

More specifically, the question is whether he was offered heavenly life before the fall. Pastor Wes White provides an illuminating discussion (link). Interestingly, this meshes well with another recent post of mine (Turretin cf. Goodwin). Naturally, Pastor White makes good use of Turretin in his explanation.


Republication of the Covenant of Works

July 19, 2008

In an interesting series, R. Scott Clark addresses the issue of the Republication of the Covenant of Works (part 1) (part 2) (part 3). Also recommend by RSC is this selection from Witsius (link).


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