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.
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.
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