WCF/SDF/LBC 19.1,2 and Republication

Republication is the idea that the Mosaic Covenant consisted of some form of works-inheritance. Just as Adam was required to work to remain in Eden and to earn his final rest, so Israel was required to work (obey the law) in order to remain in the Promised Land.

Described in this way, republication is biblical. Israel had to work to remain in the land. Remaining in the land was not just a matter of faith.

However, there are many who argue such a view is at odds with the Westminster Confession of Faith (see these Puritanboard threads Horton, the Mosaic Covenant, and the WCF and Republication: Covenant of Works Question as well as the Kerux Review of “The Law is Not of Faith” and Patrick Ramsey’s “In Defense of Moses”). In response, R. Scott Clark has argued that WCF 19.1, 2 necessarily teach republication.

Finally, it has been argued by some (e.g., some of my friends on the Puritanboard) that the doctrine of re-publication is “unconfessional.” To this I appeal to the logic implied by the grammar of WCF 19.1 and 2. 19.1 which reasserts the doctrine of 7.2, that God “gave to Adam a Law, as a Covenant of Works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it: and endued him with power and ability to keep it.” 19.2 says, “This Law, after his fall…was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments….” (Articles, 30–31). The phrase “covenant of works,” in 19.1, is appositive to the noun “Law.” Thus the “Law” is reckoned here as a covenant of works. Thus when, 19.2 establishes “This law” as the subject of the verb to be, “was delivered,” the antecedent of “this Law” can be none other than the “Law” defined as a covenant of works in 19.1.

He has elsewhere stated his argument:

The WCF itself clearly suggests the very doctrine of the republication of the covenant of works. 19,1 re-states the covenant of works (which expression occurs 4 times in the WCF indicating the commitment of the assembly to that doctrine) and then in 19.2 it begins “This law….” Stop the tape. Which law? What is the antecedent of the demonstrative relative pronoun “this”? It is the very same “law” which the confession described in 19.1 as the covenant of works.What, says the confession, happened to that law under Moses? It “was delivered by God upon Mt Sinai, in ten commandments….” What was delivered upon Mt Sinai in 10 commandments? “This law.” Which law? The law God gave to Adam. Thus, in the WCF, we confess: “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works….” That is the law that was delivered by God at Mt Sinai. A covenant of works was delivered by God at Mt Sinai. The classical Reformed theologians described this giving of a covenant of works at Mt Sinai as “republication.”


In sum, Clark argues that “this law” in 19.2 = “this covenant”. His argument is rather silly, as can be clearly seen by just reading 19.2 in full, including the part Clark omitted.

This law, after his Fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty toward God, and the other six our duty to man.

It is very clear what WCF is saying. The law of creation continued to be the rule of life for all mankind after the fall. This means that even though all men have been cut off from the promise of eternal rest as a reward for perfect obedience to the law, they are still bound to obey the law because they are God’s image bearers. 19.2 is very clear that as a perfect rule of righteousness (ie. not as a covenant of works), the law of creation was inscribed in tablets of stone at Mt. Sinai. Thus, according to WCF, God was simply telling the Israelites how they must live as His redeemed people, not setting before them a law they must obey or die. The Kerux review of “The Law is Not of Faith” notes:

This section clearly distinguishes between the law as it was given to Adam, and the law as it was delivered to Israel. To Adam, it was given “as a covenant of works.” But to Israel, it was delivered as “a perfect rule of righteousness.” Indeed, the law given to Adam continued to be such a perfect rule, and “as such, was delivered on Mount Sinai, in ten commandments.” Note the parallel prepositional phrases: the law was given to Adam “as a covenant of works,” while it was given to Israel “as…a perfect rule of righteousness.” (84)

So R. Scott Clark fails to refute the criticism that his view is contrary to WCF. (And his careless argumentation is manifested in the fact that if his interpretation of WCF 19.2 is correct, only those who hold to republication are [WCF] confessional, which is abundantly false). Also, he appears to have adopted Kline’s conflation of law and covenant unaware that such a view is contrary to the confession (7.1) which distinguishes the law from the covenantal promise of life as reward (works principle).

But what I find interesting is how 19.2 relates to the idea of republication (a works-inheritance principle in the Mosaic Covenant) in the Savoy and LBC.

You can see many of my previous points on this issue (click the “covenants” category on the left), but in sum, Owen rejected the WCF’s formulation of the Mosaic Covenant. Owen said it operated on a works-inheritance principle and that it was separate from the Covenant of Grace (and also separate from the Covenant of Works made with Adam). Thus he changed Chapter 7 of the Savoy Declaration to reflect his view. Nehemiah Coxe was most likely the editor of the 1689 LBC, and he explicitly stated that he agreed with Owen on this point (see “Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ” from RBAP). Hence, the LBC modified Chapter 7 as well.

What is interesting though, is that both Confessions also slightly changed 19.2. Savoy says:

This law, so written in the heart, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall of man; and was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the four first commandments containing our duty towards God, and the other six our duty to man.

and LBC:

The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.


Notice what is missing from both: “as such”. Neither Savoy nor LBC necessarily teach that the 10 Commandments were given to Israel as a perfect rule of righteousness, in contrast to as a covenant of works. Thus Savoy and LBC leave open the possibility that the 10 commandments delivered as part of the Mosaic Covenant operated on a works-inheritance principle for the nation of Israel (i.e. republication), while WCF does not. Perhaps Dr. Clark should change his Confession of Faith?

See also Samuel Renihan’s Formal and Material Republication in the Confessions of Faith.

16 thoughts on “WCF/SDF/LBC 19.1,2 and Republication

    1. Very much so. It is two volumes in one. The first half is Nehemiah Coxe’s writings on the covenants from Adam to Abraham. Coxe says he was stopped short of finishing his writing on Mosaic to the New because Owen had just published his commentary on Hebrews 8 and it said almost exactly what he would have said. So then Owens commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13 is the second half of the volume. Great historical info in the preface/intro from James Renihan too, and a great Appendix from Barcellos on Owen’s view of the moral law as it relates to the Mosaic and New Covenants.

      Coxe ends up arguing that there were two different covenants made with Abraham (Gen 12 and Gen 17). I don’t agree with that, and I think Pink does a better job of explaining the single covenant made with Abraham – but Coxe still has a lot of great stuff to say. Owen’s 150 page commentary is gold.


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  11. Keach has another interesting way of talking about republication in his confession:
    “That the Law God gave by Moses to Israel, was of the same nature of that given to Adam, being a second Ministration of it; but not given for Life, but to make Sin exceeding sinful, and to shew how unable Man was in his fallen state to fulfil the Righteousness of God; and so (with the Ceremonial Law) it was given in subservienty to the Gospel, as a Schoolmaster to bring Sinners to Christ.” (The articles of the faith of the Church of Christ, or, Congregation meeting at Horsley-down Benjamin Keach, pastor, as asserted this 10th of the 6th month, 1697. 30.2. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A47381.0001.001/1:4.28?rgn=div2;view=fulltext;q1=benjamin+keach)


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