How does Abraham’s typological merit relate to the Abrahamic Covenant? It is important to note that Kline did not deny that the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises (at the typological level) were conditioned upon Abraham’s obedience. He did not see Abraham’s typological merit as something that functioned outside of the Abrahamic Covenant. “Genesis 22:16 and 26:5 are relevant here as statements affirming a causal relationship between Abraham’s obedience and the fulfillment of the promises.” (KP 311) “[T]he promised program of the Abrahamic Covenant would proceed to unfold because Abraham had done this.” (KP 324) Kline referred to this arrangement as a royal grant made to Abraham.
Suzerain-Vassal & Royal Grants
In his study of the Ancient Near-East, Kline saw two types of covenants of the time. Suzerain-vassal covenants were made between a king (suzerain, like Nebuchadnezzar) and lesser rulers of conquered kingdoms (vassal, like Jehoiakim; 2 Kgs 24:1). It imposed rules of perpetual obedience to maintain the status quo and included sanctions (punishment) for disobedience. Royal grant covenants were special covenants that kings (suzerain) made with exceptional rulers under them (vassal). The king granted the ruler a gift (land, etc) as a reward for his previous demonstration of loyalty. These two types of covenants can be combined into one under the idea of probation. A ruler can be placed under a suzerain-vassal covenant, but with the promise that after successfully demonstrating their loyalty over a period of time, they may receive a greater reward (grant). Kline referred to this as a proposal of a grant. Both suzerain-vassal and grant-proposal covenants are covenants of works.
Adamic Suzerain-Vassal Grant Proposal
The creational covenant will here be called “The Creator’s Covenant of Works with Adam.”… [I]t involves not only the bestowal of the kingdom on a holy people of God but an offer to make the kingdom given in creation a permanent possession on a glorified level of existence. Described in terms of varieties of international covenants familiar at the time of the writing of the book of Genesis, the original covenant with Adam was thus a suzerain-vassal covenant plus the proposal of a special grant to the vassal for loyal service… [T]his covenant contained the proposal of a special grant to man, the servant-son, for loyal service to his Lord. It offered an eschatological advance in kingdom glory conditioned on man’s obedience… A principle of works – do this and live – governed the attainment of the consummation-kingdom proferred in the blessing sanction of the creational covenant. Heaven must be earned. (KP 20-21, 103, 108)
In our introductory comments on the Creator’s Covenant of Works with Adam we suggested that that covenant was comparable to the proposal of a grant in which a great king offered to give favored treatment to a lesser ruler on the condition of his assuming and performing the obligations of loyal service as a covenant vassal. Although Adam was created with the status of covenant servant, he was under a probation which proposed a special eschatological grant for covenant-keeping. (KP 234-5)
Messianic Grant Proposal
In distinguishing the two varieties of conditionality the key question is that of the function of the response of obedience. If the obedience functions as the meritorious ground of reception or retention of the kingdom blessings, the conditionality is that of the works principle, the opposite of the principle of grace. Obedience functions that way in the eternal covenant of the Father and Son, in the Covenant of the Creator with Adam, and in the Mosaic Covenant at the level of the typological kingdom (see further below). (KP 318)
Kline saw the Noahic Covenant as one of several instances of a typological works-based grant covenant.
The Genesis 6:18 covenant with Noah might be identified more precisely as a covenant of grant. That is the kind of covenant that ancient rulers gave to meritorious individuals for faithful service to the crown… Noah, unlike Adam, is viewed as a covenant servant who has already demonstrated his fidelity. He therefore receives not just the proposal of a grant but the actual reward, which the Lord was in fact in the process of bestowing in making this covenantal disclosure with its directives concerning the ark, the means of salvation and kingdom realization…
It is, of course, the gospel truth that God’s dealings with Noah found their ultimate explanation in the principle of God’s sovereign grace. This covenantal grant to Noah came under the Covenant of Grace whose administration to fallen men deserving only the curse of the broken creational covenant (and Noah too was one of these fallen sons of Adam) was an act of God’s pure mercy in Christ.
The covenant of grant given to Noah is one of several such divine dispensations in the premessianic era of redemptive history. Wherever we encounter such a bestowal of the kingdom and its honors on the basis of the good works of the grantee, the question naturally arises as to the consistency of this with redemptive covenant’s promises of grace. In all such cases the key point to observe is that the opposing principles of works and grace are operating in different spheres or at different levels from one another. For these works-arrangements all involve a situation where there is a typological representation of the messianic king and kingdom, superimposed as a second distinct level over a fundamental level that has to do with the eschatological kingdom reality itself. Now at that basic underlying level, where it is a matter of the individual’s gaining entrance into the eternal heavenly kingdom, not just a symbolic prototype thereof, sovereign saving grace is ever and only the principle that governs the inheritance of kingdom blessings. It is at the other level, the level of the superimposed typological stratum, that the Lord has been pleased on occasion to make the attainment of the rewards of the kingdom dependent on man’s obedient performance of his covenantal duty. Since, then, the introduction of the works principle in such covenantal arrangements affects only the typological overlay and not the underlying stratum of ultimate redemptive-eschatological reality, these works-grants assume their ancillary place harmoniously within the administrations of the Covenant of Grace. And grace thus remains at all times the constant principle of eternal salvation. (KP 234-6)
As in the other cases we have discussed, we must keep in mind the typological level of the kingdom that was secured by Noah’s righteousness if we are to perceive the consistency of this works-grant with the grace principle that was operating at the permanent, fundamental stratum of the Covenant of Grace. The flood judgment was but a type of the messianic judgment and the kingdom in the ark that was granted to Noah as the reward for his good works was only typological of the messianic kingdom. Therefore, this covenant of grant to Noah was not in conflict with or an abrogation of the grace of the redemptive covenant. (KP 239)
Abraham and David were recipients of such covenants of grant as rewards for faithfulness… [T]he dynastic grant promised in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam.7) follows David’s victorious campaigns against the enemies of God’s people and his capture of Zion as the site for God’s sanctuary (2 Sam 5 and 6; cf. 7:1). (KP 237-8)
When the king promise attained its first level fulfillment, it was embodied in a separate covenant of its own. God gave to his faithful servant David a covenantal guarantee that his dynasty would endure forever and that his descendants would build God’s house (2 Sam 7:5ff.). (333-4)
Abrahamic Grant Proposal
Kline saw the Abrahamic Covenant, at the typological level, as another instance of a typological grant for a servant’s covenant obedience.
In the case of the covenants of grant, the message to be conveyed through the introduction of the works principle did not so much concern the nature of the messianic kingdom, but rather the role of the messianic king. The biblical data indicate that the Lord was pleased to take the exemplary obedience of certain of his servants and to constitute that a typological sign of how the obedience of the coming messianic Servant of the Lord would secure the kingdom and its royal-priestly blessings for himself and for his people. Abraham and David were recipients of such covenants of grant as rewards for faithfulness. Phinehas was another (cf. Num 25:11-13). Each of these individuals had personal hope of heaven only through God’s grace in Jesus Christ, only as a gift received by faith alone. But the conspicuous faithfulness of their lives in general or of certain specific acts of outstanding service they performed was invested by the Lord with typological significance so that they, with reference to a typological manifestation of the kingdom, pointed to Christ as one who also was under a covenant of works and received the grant of the kingdom for the obedient fulfillment of his covenantal mission.
Common to all the displays of obedience that were rewarded with grants of the kingdom in a typological form may be discerned the motif of victory in the holy war against Satan and his earthly forces and followers. Actual military combat is at times involved. The promise of great reward to Abraham in Genesis 15:1 comes on the background of his warrior role in the conflict against the forces of the kings from the east (Gen 14)… It is as if these servants of the Lord had been confronted, like Adam, with a probation-mission, challenging them as guardians of God’s sanctuary to enter into judgment against the Adversary. By their valiant exploits in faithful performance of their mission they typified beforehand the obedient second Adam’s salvation-victory in his judicial combat with Satan and his hosts.
These other covenants of grant will be discussed further below, particularly the case of Abraham and his double role, serving as the great example of justification by faith, and yet, with respect to the typological phase of the kingdom, viewed as the recipient of a divine grant based on his obedience, a grant which God honored in bestowing the typological kingdom on the Israelites. Hence, though Israel’s original reception of the typological kingdom under the Mosaic Covenant was not a grant bestowed on the ground of the Israelites’ past performance, it may be construed as the carrying out of the Lord’s grant to Abraham for his accomplishments of faith. (KP 237-9)
As just seen, Kline referred to Abraham as one who was “also” under a covenant of works like Christ. Like Adam, Abraham was given a probation-mission. Abraham passed his probation. As a result, he was granted the reward of the typological kingdom of Israel and the role of being father of the Messiah (as we saw in Part 2). This reward was a covenantal reward (all royal grants are, by definition, covenantal). Commenting on Genesis 22, Kline said
Another display of outstanding covenantal obedience by Abraham, the most remarkable of all, was the occasion for a second divine disclosure presenting the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant as a divine grant for the servant’s work of obedience. (KLP 324)
Like Noah, Abraham became the recipient of a covenantal grant of the kingdom because of faithful service he rendered… Gen 15:1 depicts the Lord as a suzerain who bestows a royal grant on an officer for notable military service… Genesis 22 records another episode in which an outstanding act of obedience on Abraham’s part is said to be the basis for the Lord’s bestowing on him the blessings of the covenant. (GHHM 102)
[A] works principle was operative both in the grant of the kingdom to Abraham and in the meting out of the typological kingdom blessings to the nation of Israel[.] (GHHM 128)
It should be noted that the redemptive historical blessings that God granted Abraham in Genesis 22 upon successful completion of his probation are the blessings originally promised in Gen 12 and subsequently repeated throughout the intervening chapters. These blessings are promised in Gen 15. Recall Kline said “Common to all the displays of obedience that were rewarded with grants of the kingdom in a typlogical form… The promise of a great reward to Abraham in Genesis 15:1 comes on the background of his warrior role.” (KP 238) That is, Kline understood the Gen 15 revelation of the Abrahamic Covenant to be a royal grant for Abraham’s faithfulness. Throughout all of its iterations, the redemptive historical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are conditioned upon his obedience, his fulfillment of the covenant terms. Thus the Abrahamic Covenant, at the upper, redemptive historical level was a royal grant proposal (probation) successfully fulfilled.
- Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 1: Murray and Shepherd
- Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 2: Typological Merit
- Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 3: Royal Grant Proposal
- Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 4: Contradiction
- Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 5: Glory Cloud Podcast
- Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 6: 1689 Federalism