Kline’s Covenant Creation & WCF 7.1

One of the issues involved in the debate over Klinean Republication is WCF 7.1. Discussing the issue, however, is often unproductive because there is some confusion over what the real debate is about. Hopefully the following will help clarify things.

First, here is a summary of 7.1 provided by Sam Renihan:


Many Kline proponents seem to be focused on the question of when and how the covenant of works was communicated to man, arguing that it was communicated to man at the same time as the moral law – both were written on man’s heart at creation. Now, that is obviously related to Kline’s idea of covenantal creation, but it’s not actually the real focus. The real focus is the question of a logical distinction between created man and man in covenant, and thus the question of merit. Kline notes “It is not the case, as some theological reconstructions would have it, that the covenant was superimposed on a temporally or logically prior noncovenantal human state.” (KP 17, emphasis added)

The question is if the law itself is a covenant of works, or if the law was given as a covenant of works. Can the two be distinguished, or are they identical?

In Kline’s response to Fuller “Covenant Theology Under Attack” he responds to Fuller’s emphasis on pre-fall grace in order to create a continuum between pre and post-fall covenant. Kline’s response is the wrong one. His response is to reject WCF 7.1 altogether, rather than pointing out that Fuller’s teaching was contrary to it.


The statement of Jesus appealed to (Luke 17:10) does indeed indicate that we can never do something extra beyond our covenantal obligations, as a sort of favor for which God should be grateful. But this does not mean that human works of obedience are of no merit

Note, Luke 17:10 is the prooftext in WCF 7.1. The confession appeals to it to show that “human works of obedience are of no merit.” Kline rejects this interpretation.


At this juncture, advocates of the Fuller approach adduce a second argument to justify their use of the term grace rather than works for the pre­Fall covenant. They say that even if it be granted that Adam’s obedience would have earned something, the reward to be bestowed so far exceeded the value of his act of service that we cannot speak here of simple justice. We must speak of “grace.”

We have already criticized the duplicity of using the term grace in the covenant with Adam in a sense totally different from the meaning it has in the gospel. Now we will focus on the denial of the simple justice of the pre­Fall arrangement. For one thing, the alleged disparity in value between Adam’s obedience and God’s blessing is debatable. It could be argued that insofar as man’s faithful act of obedience glorifies God and gives pleasure to God, it is of infinite value. But the point we really want to make is that the presence or absence of justice is not determined by quantitative comparison of the value of the act of obedience and the consequent reward. All such considerations are irrelevant.

Kline is clear in his rejection of the concept of merit taught in WCF 7.1. Instead of justice according to a condescended covenant reward, Kline argues for “simple justice.” Any consideration of the inability for creatures to merit from their Creator is “irrelevant.”

Joseph Pipa noted in a recent lecture that Kline was very open with him about his rejection of 7.1. I heard that from someone else recently too, but I can’t recall who now. Lee Irons wrote a paper called “Redefining Merit.” The paper was written with Kline’s help and input, and at his prodding. Here is how Irons elaborates on these statements from Kline:

If we grant the fundamental correctness and validity of Kline’s concerns, what would such a systematic overhaul of the concepts of merit and justice look like in broad outline?… Kline clearly rejects the voluntarist position that all merit is based upon God’s free and gracious condescension to make himself a debtor to man’s finite works…

Kline searches for an entirely new definition of merit: “God’s justice must be defined and judged in terms of what he stipulates in his covenants.” The covenant is the revelation of God’s justice…

We need to be airlifted out of the medieval battlefield, leaving the embattled medieval schools to the fate of their own mutually-assured destruction. Our desired deliverance is to be found in Kline’s redefinition of the very notion of merit. At times one may think that he agrees with the voluntarist position that all merit is defined by the covenant. But his understanding of that covenant is different. It is not a voluntary condescension of divine grace but a revelation of divine justice. Upon hearing this, one may then jump to the conclusion that Kline is an intellectualist, looking for an abstract definition of justice not based on God’s will as revealed in covenant. But this too turns out to be a false lead, for Kline rejects any ontological definition of merit that looks for a proportionality of intrinsic value between the deed and the reward. Again, merit is defined by God’s covenantal revelation. Divine justice cannot be deduced by ontological or metaphysical valuations, but can only be discerned through the spectacles of the covenant…

When WCF VII.1 is read in this broader context, it begins to appear more and more like a vestigial organ whose surgical removal would not jeopardize the continued vitality of the larger organism… No longer is it possible to argue that the reward offered was out of all proportion to the work rendered, and that therefore Adam’s work would have been accepted according to grace rather than the strict merit of works… he was not condescending in the freedom of his grace but covenanting in the revelation of his justice.

So it is crystal-clear: Kline’s view of merit was a rejection of the Westminster Confession’s view of merit.

How does this affect the question of republication? Well, according to the WCF there is a distinction between the moral/natural law and the covenant of works. The moral/natural law is the duty that reasonable creatures owe their Creator. It says “Do this.” The covenant adds to this law a reward “Do this, and live.” Thus the moral law itself/intrinsically does NOT contain the works principle. Instead, it is simply “a perfect rule of righteousness.” Only the covenant of works contains the works principle.

When and How

Logically distinguishing the law from the covenant, however, does not preclude us from viewing the covenant as communicated together with the law to man at creation, as some suggest WLC93 teaches (compare the proof texts there with the proof texts at WCF 7.2). Nehemiah Coxe notes:

First, God made him a reasonable creature and endued him with original righteousness, which was a perfection necessary to enable him to answer the end of his creation. Eminently in this respect he is said to be created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and to be made upright (Ecc 7:29). This uprightness or rectitude of nature consisted in the perfect harmony of his soul with that law of God which he was made under and subjected to…

Adam was not only under a commination of death in case of disobedience, but also had the promise of an eternal reward on condition of his perfect obedience to these laws. If he had fulfilled this condition, the reward would have been due to him by virtue of this compact into which God was pleased to condescend for the encouraging of man’s obedience and the manifestation of his own bounty and goodness…

He was capable of and made for a greater degree of happiness than he immediately enjoyed. This was set before him as the reward of his obedience by that covenant in which he was to walk with God. Of this reward set before him, these things are further to be observed.

1. Although the law of his creation was attended both with a promise of reward and a threatening of punishment, yet the reason of both is not the same nor necessary in the same way. For the reward is of mere sovereign bounty and goodness. It therefore might have been either less or more, as it pleased God, or not proposed at all without any injury being done. But the threatened punishment is a debt to justice and results immediately from the nature of sin with reference to God without the intervention of any compact. It is due to the transgression of it, even by those that are already cut off from any hope of reward by a former breach of the covenant…

S6. From these things it is evident that God dealt with Adam not only on terms of a law but by way of covenant…
2. But it is certainly concluded from that promise of reward and the assurance that was given to Adam which he could never have obtained except by God condescending to deal with him by terms of a covenant…

[Natural men] expect a reward of future blessedness for their obedience to the law of God and to stand before him on terms of the covenant of works. This necessarily arises from man’s relationship to God at first in such a covenant (which included the promise of such a reward) and the knowledge of these covenant terms communicated to him, together with the law of creation.

Consider also Samuel John Baird (1860):

1. In the quotation from the Larger Catechism, the law, under which our first parents were placed at their creation, is divided into two elements,—the “special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” and “the moral law.” The moral law, thus carefully distinguished from the positive precept, is then described in covenant terms, as “promising life upon the fulfilling of it.”

2. In the Brief Sum, the moral law is said to have been “written in the heart” of our first parents.

3. The law is there logically distinguished from the covenant of works, and described as in the order of nature antecedent to it,-which it is;—the one being of necessary obligation, the other of gratuitous bestowment.

4. In the place quoted from the Confession, the law is expressly stated to have been given “as a covenant of works.” Here, the same logical distinction and order of nature are observed; and, at the same time, the dates of the two transactions are identified. If the law was “given as a covenant of works,” evidently Adam was no sooner under law than he was in covenant.

The First Adam and the Second: The Elohim Revealed in the Creation and Redemption of Man, p. 288

So it is not simply Kline’s claim that man was created in covenant that is controversial. What is controversial is what he means by that in light of his rejection of 7.1. Irons elaborates:

rather than making the covenant of works an expression of voluntary condescension toward unfallen man, it must be regarded as the expression of God’s justice and goodness toward rational beings created in his image and created for eternal, Sabbatical enjoyment of God. The covenant of works will of necessity now be viewed not as an additional structure superimposed upon the created order, a created order that could very well have existed apart from a covenant relationship with the Creator, but as an essential part of God’s creating man after his own image…

once God freely determined to create a rational being endowed with the divine image in terms of his God-like ethical consciousness and dominion over the creation, then he was no longer free not to enter into a covenant with this creature…

It is therefore incorrect to speak of God voluntarily condescending to the creature to make a covenant. For the very fact of creation itself has already constituted man in a covenant relationship with his Creator… he was not condescending in the freedom of his grace but covenanting in the revelation of his justice.

Kline’s covenantal creation is a rejection of the Westminster conception of merit and of the law. It is not simply a statement about how and when the covenant was communicated. It is a statement about merit and the law that is contrary to WCF.

This is the theme that VanDrunen picks up on. In his chapter in TLNF:

Perhaps most pertinent for present purposes is whether the Adamic covenant, in light of its association with natural law, was itself part of (created) nature or something above and additional to nature. A Brakel represents one line of thought in the earlier Reformed tradition in stating explicitly that Adam “was created in this covenant from the very first moment of his existence.” Yet among other Reformed theologians there has been some ambiguity, in my judgment. Turretin and Bavinck, for example, both claim that God made man in his image with a natural knowledge of the moral law and the awareness that a judgment of reward or punishment must follow obedience or disobedience. At the same time, both also fear to assert that God had any sort of natural obligation to grant eschatological life to Adam upon his obedience and therefore speak of the covenant, with its unexcited promise to reward obedience with life, as something added on to creation in the divine image…

A Reformed theologian of recent days has cut through this ambiguity – however unwittingly, given that he does not interact with his predecessors or use the terminology of natural law on this point. Meredith G. Kline (1922-2007) follows his Reformed predecessors closely in affirming the works principle operative in the covenant with Adam and in associating this works principle with the reality of the image of God. He resolves the ambiguity patent in many of his predecessors, however, by refusing to separate the act of creation in the image of God from the establishment of the covenant with Adam. For Kline, the very act of creation in God’s image entails the establishment of the covenant, with its requirement of obedience and its prospect of eschatological reward or punishment.

So the distinction between the law and the law as a covenant of works is gone. The law is a covenant of works.

VanDrunen then applies this to the question of republication:

if the Reformed tradition is correct in seeing the Mosaic law as a particular application of the natural law for theocratic Israel, and if the natural law proclaims the works principle, then there is at least an initial presumption for recognizing the works principle as one of the constitutive aspects of the Mosaic covenant…

A simple syllogism is lurking in the background: if natural law proclaims the works principle (section one), and if the Mosaic law expresses and applies the natural law (section two), then we would expect to find the works principle operative in the Mosaic covenant…

Building upon Kline’s rejection of 7.1, VanDrunen winds up denying more of the WCF. As Lane Keister explained here (and I have explained here and Robert Strimple notes here), WCF 19.2 simply states that the moral law, not the covenant of works, was republished/delivered on Mt. Sinai.

I. 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.

II. 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 towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.

The law was given to Adam as a covenant of works. But it was given to Israel as a perfect rule of righteousness (note “as such”). VanDrunen therefore contradicts 19.2 because he says the law itself is the works principle and therefore cannot be given in any other sense. As I said initially, this is where all the modern Klinean proponents who argue for republication from 19.2 are confused: they have an unconfessional definition/understanding of the moral law. They think it inherently contains the works principle. This is rooted in Kline’s unconfessional redefinition of merit.

This definition of moral law also contradicts 19.5-7 which says that this same moral law continues to bind justified Christians who have been freed from the works principle. VanDrunen anticipates this and admits that yes, Christians are not under the same law as the one referred to in Rom 2:15-16 – that is, Christians are not under the moral law.

Post Script

The question as to whether all of God’s revelation and act of creation is necessarily covenantal is addressed, in part, here: The Silent Shift on 7.1

27 thoughts on “Kline’s Covenant Creation & WCF 7.1

  1. Hugh McCann

    Well done, Brandon!

    VERY important, this. Nice that the Upper Register kept what the OPC’s organ, “New Horizons” purged from Kline: The less-than-flattering references to John Murray and Norman Shepherd.

    Sadly, Kline’s own OPC (along with her sister, the PCA) has suffered from a decided lack of biblicism on this issue, with the resultant flourishing of the Federal Vision heresy therein.

    Kline’s conclusion:

    Fuller and Machen’s Heirs

    “The assault on classic covenant theology of which Fuller has become a vociferous spokesman is being endorsed by some prominent leaders within even the broadly Reformed wing of evangelicalism. And the sad fact is that this theology, which undermines the biblical truths that provided Machen with his dying comfort, has had its aiders and abettors within the very movement that Machen founded. Strangely, it was the one who received Machen’s deathbed telegram who opened the door a considerable crack for the views inimical to the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ.

    “John Murray’s exegetical study of Romans 5 was supportive of the classic doctrine of imputation, but this was undercut by the recasting of covenant theology he undertook in the Covenant of Grace (Tyndale Press, 1953).

    “Murray did at least affirm the possibility of meritorious human work, with obedience receiving a just reward, but he limited this to a situation where the reward would perfectly balance the value of the work. (For Murray that meant an obedient Adam must remain in his original state without advancement.) This qualification restricted the possibility to a theoretical moment at the beginning before the covenant was superimposed on this primal state of nature, since on Murray’s (mistaken) definition of covenant, “grace” came with covenant, and that spelled the end of any momentary hypothetical administration of simple justice.

    “The door left ajar by Murray was thrown wide open to Fuller’s theology by Murray’s successor. Norman Shepherd rightly rejected Murray’s notion of a state of nature. (Such a pre-covenant situation never existed; the world was created a covenantal order from the outset.) However, this meant that for Shepherd, who adopted Murray’s equation of covenant and ‘grace,’ there was no place at all left for a covenant of works or meritorious human obedience or simple justice. Though the ensuing controversy over Shepherd’s views led to his departure, his teaching was not officially renounced by ecclesiastical or seminary arms of our movement, and key elements of the Fuller-Shepherd theology continue to be advocated among us.

    “The current intensification of the Fuller crusade awakens anew our concern over the sympathy for his views that has continued to smolder within the Machen movement for more than a decade after the Shepherd case. The church must be alerted against the encroachment of this radical renunciation of the Reformation, this subtle surrender to Rome. May Machen’s heirs not let go of their commitment to covenant theology but continue to cherish it, and in particular its precious doctrine of the righteousness secured for us by the active obedience of Christ. As Machen said: No hope without it!”

    Indeed. AMEN & AMEN. R.I.P., Dr Kline!


  2. Jack Miller

    Hi Brandon, could you help me out here… regarding Luke 17:10. My question is whether the proof text refers to unfallen man and the law apart from any covenant or unfallen man in covenant. To me it isn’t clear. But could it not be referring to the former? Certainly apart from any covenant it would be true that he cannot merit from God in any sense. Yet commenting on 7.1, Robert Shaw writes in “The Reformed Faith” –

    But God graciously condescended to deal with man by way of covenant, and thus gave him an opportunity to secure his happiness by acquiring a right to it – a right founded upon stipulation, or upon the promise. “Man,” says the celebrated Witsius, “upon his accepting the covenant, and performing the condition, does acquire some right to demand of God the promise; for God has, by his promises, made himself a debtor to man; or, to speak in a manner more becoming God, he was pleased to make his performing his promises a debt due to himself,—to his goodness, justice, and veracity. And to man, in covenant, and continuing steadfast to it, he granted the right of expecting and requiring that God should satisfy the demands of his goodness, justice, and truth, by the performance of the promises.”



  3. An added thought regarding adhering to the WCF, T. David Gordon on subscription:

    “When a presbyterian minister subscribes to the Westminster standards as containing the system of doctrine taught in the scriptures, he does not explicitly or implicitly state that he believes that the Westminster articulation of biblical doctrine is the only way of stating biblical truth, or even the best way of stating it. Many times, we may with all integrity believe that the Irish Articles of Religion, or the Thirty-Nine Articles, or the Heidelberg Catechism express the same biblical truth more articulately or with less confusion.

    For years, I have told my students that there is an important difference between “manner” and “matter,” when talking about the truths of the confessional standards. As for the “matter” which they teach, we agree sincerely, or we would not choose to be ordained in a church which employs those standards. But, as for the “manner” in which they teach biblical truth, there are several occasions when we respectfully believe that they have confused as much as they have clarified. Sometimes this confusion is the result of the work being done by an aggregate of individuals, with the necessary smaller concessions that attend such activity. Sometimes the confusion is due to the deliberate effort by Assembly to produce a compromise document that would satisfy its entire constituency; and sometimes it is probably due to the simple reality of human imperfection.”


    1. That’s a ridiculous quote to provide on this post. They need to have the integrity to state that they disagree with portions of the confessions both in matter and in manner. I am completely uninterested in questions of subscription with regards to Klinean republication. I am entirely interested in clarity.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hugh McCann

      Bet you weren’t quite expecting THAT answer, were you, Jack? Scorchin’!

      As a one-time PCA-er, I well remember the strict vs. system subscription debates with the west-coast Westminster men: Frame, Kline, Pipa, et. al. I was there pre-Van Drunen & Estelle, right when Clark & Horton were coming aboard.

      “Those were different times,” to quote Lou Reed.

      But to Gordon’s point, subscription is ever problematic, as we’re upholding & swearing to docs that are ever revisable, at least, in theory…


    3. Sorry Jack, that was rude of me. My point is simply that we’re discussing what the Confession says, not how to deal with people who disagree with it. When people feel forced to affirm something that they don’t actually affirm, that’s where problems arise and confusion results. My greatest frustration in this debate is that Kline’s great biblical insights are being obscured by people who are more concerned with being confessional and finding historical precedent. I want clear dialogue.

      For what its worth, I think the ecclesiology that ties a pastor’s ordination to his subscription is the cause of much trouble. A pastor should be free to state his conscience clearly without fear of losing his ministry.

      See here for an example of what that looks like in practice:


      Liked by 1 person

  4. PJ

    5 star rating! Really, I did rate it. 😛 Excellent detailed analysis and quoting of primary sources. You have nailed (in a clear and simple manner) many of the criticisms against Klinean Republication – better than I’ve seen in almost anywhere else.

    You rightly point out the issues with Dr. Kline’s version of simple justice merit, which seems contrary to the “pactum merit” of historic Reformed theology and the Confessions. And also you recognized his contradictions with WCF, notably on Luke 17:10. I especially appreciate your interaction with Mr. Lee Irons and Dr. David VanDrunen’s work.

    Also it is interesting and impressive to see your addressing the Klinean view claiming man was created from the beginning in covenant. I was wondering if you go into this in anymore detail elsewhere (I’m new to your blog)? I have been concerned with the possible implications with General/Special Revelation and obligating God in his creation of mankind and wondered if you had explored these issues?

    Will you please post the Joey Pipa source? (“Joseph Pipa noted in a recent lecture that Kline was very open with him about his rejection of 7.1.”) And the source you forgot is probably from “Merit and Moses” Page 32 (where it is alleged that Kline told Robert Strimple and others he took a personal exception with “voluntary condescension” in WCF 7.1)

    Excellent work keeping us biblical, brother!


    1. Hi Pj, thanks for the encouragement. I haven’t really explored the issue of creation in covenant beyond this post. As I mentioned in this post, the issue is not simply the timing, but the logical distinctions between natural & covenantal. You may find this worthwhile http://www.rbap.net/the-temporal-revelation-of-the-covenant-of-works-in-owen-absolutely-or-relatively-coeval-with-creation/

      This is related as well https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/nehemiah-coxe-on-merit-in-lbcf-7-1/

      Pipa’s comment was found here http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=4615182462 (I did not think the critique was very good)


  5. Brandon,
    Sorry for my lack of understanding and very base question here: so then the Mosaic Law is not a cov of works but a cov of righteousness by works? What is the difference?


    1. Hi Jake,
      I did not intend to make the distinction you made. The point is that the moral law by itself is not a covenant and does not contain the works principle (do this and live). The works principle is something that is added to the law to make it a covenant of works. The Mosaic law is a covenant of works (for life in the land of Canaan), because the moral law was given in a particular covenantal form to Israel – it was given as a covenant of works to Israel. But, contra Kline, the mere fact that the moral law was given to Israel does not therefore prove the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works. The moral law could have been given to Israel *as a rule of life (not a covenant of works, not a works principle), just as the law is given to Christians as a rule of life. The law itself does not contain the works principle.


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  10. If I understand your last post here, you are saying something like: the covanental aspect of ‘do x and live, violate x and die’ is in no way contingent upon what x is, in this case x is ‘the Law’. Does that work?


  11. I will try. You said ‘The point is that the moral law by itself is not a covenant and does not contain the works principle (do this and live)’. If I understand rightly, all this means is that the moral law and the covanental structure are not synonymous. The structure is something akin to ‘do x and you will get blessed, do not do x and you will be cursed’. The x may be ‘the moral law’, but does not necessarily have to be (God could have had something else be x without altering the covanental structure.
    But, if I understood you correctly, even though they are not the same thing, isn’t the covanental structure itself where we see that there is a ‘do this and live’ flavor, and isn’t that where the motivation comes from to consider the mosaic covanent as something like the CoW?
    Thank you


    1. If that works, then it doesn’t put so much importance on the purpose of the moral law given to Israel. Whether given as a rule of life or as the criteria by which covanent faithfulness is determined, it would still be part of something else-a covanent.


    2. the moral law and the covanental structure are not synonymous.


      The structure is something akin to ‘do x and you will get blessed, do not do x and you will be cursed’.

      To be clear, that is the structure of a covenant of works. It is not necessarily the structure of every kind of covenant – the covenant of grace for example.

      isn’t the covanental structure itself where we see that there is a ‘do this and live’ flavor, and isn’t that where the motivation comes from to consider the mosaic covanent as something like the CoW?

      The comparison between the Mosaic Covenant and the Adamic Covenant is that both are examples of the law given as a covenant of works. The “do this and live” principle stated in Leviticus 18:5 (“You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.”) states both the law and the covenant terms (the law as a covenant of works).

      If that works, then it doesn’t put so much importance on the purpose of the moral law given to Israel. Whether given as a rule of life or as the criteria by which covanent faithfulness is determined, it would still be part of something else-a covanent.

      I don’t understand what you’re saying here.


      1. I think I am ultimately agreeing with you; I do not see Adam being created ‘in covanent’, but that God went into covanent with Adam in addition to and apart from creating him ( even though I would say he was created to be put into a covanent, I just think these two things should be distinct).
        Can we be exposed to the moral law in a non-covanental manner? I say yes, but think the word ‘law’ makes it hard to make the distinction between covanental and / non covanental use. Maybe we should call it the moral ‘code’ to differentiate.


  12. markmcculley

    Lee Irons—-“God’s freedom must be maintained, but not at the expense of the divine perfections (i.e., wisdom, goodness, justice, holiness, truth, and rationality). God does not act arbitrarily, for all his actions are expressive of and delimited by his attributes….A covenant is the revelation of God’s justice. It follows, therefore, that (we) must reject the distinction between condign and congruous merit. The problem with this distinction is that congruous ex pacto merit becomes gracious when it is placed by way of contrast beneath condign merit as something less than full and real merit. Thus, grace inevitably enters the definition of congruous merit.”

    Click to access redefining_merit.pdf

    OPC Report on Justification– Federal Vision proponents have argued that Phillippians 2:9 rules out the notion of merit in regard to Christ’s obedience, because Paul uses the word echarisato, which etymologically derives from the word for “grace,” charis, to describe God’s giving the name above every name to Christ. This indicates, they claim, that the Father exalted the Son not meritoriously but graciously……The context of Phil 2:5- 11 shows that MERIT CANNOT BE ELIMINATED from Paul’s teaching here. The context is one of “work rendered and value received.” The Father exalted the Son because the Son perfectly fulfilled his course of obedience. The Son obeyed, therefore the Father exalted Him.


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