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SRR 92 Brandon Adams on Covenant Theology & Republication, Part I

October 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Tim and Carlos had me back on Semper Reformanda Radio to explain why I was asking so many questions about Patrick Hines’ view of the Mosaic Covenant in a debate about baptism. We discussed R. Scott Clark, John Murray, the OPC Report, 17th century diversity, and more.

https://thorncrownministries.com/srr/2018/10/22/srr-92-interview-with-brandon-adams-on-covenant-theology

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Acceptable Understanding of Mosaic Law (According to the OPC Report on Republication)

August 30, 2018 2 comments

Below is a summary of the confessionally (WCF) acceptable way that the Mosaic law may be understood, according to the OPC Report on Republication. I believe that they have accurately explained the meaning of the substance/administration distinction according to the WCF. They have also drawn out a necessary conclusion regarding Lev. 18:5 that was not necessarily drawn out by all who have historically held to Westminster’s version of covenant theology.

 

Preliminary Conclusions

 

  • “it is basic to our confession’s presentation of covenant theology to distinguish between the substance and administration [accidents] of the covenant of grace”
  • “the confession allows for an administrative republication of the covenant of works” [not a substantial republication]
  • “if church officers subscribing to the system of theology contained in our confessional standards refer to the Mosaic administration as a covenant of works in some sense, it would seem that there must be qualifiers added to explain what is and is not meant by the use of this terminology… The qualifiers that your committee recommends can be found at the conclusion of our report.

Conclusion

In this report, we have identified two basic senses of republication: substantial and administrative. Administrative republication is consistent with our standards in that it coherently maintains that the Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace. Examples of administrative republication include declarative, material, and misinterpretive republications, as well as an indirect, redemptive reenactment of Adam’s sin and exile (as described in our report).

Views of substantial republication which are theologically inconsistent with our standards include: pure and simple republications, subservient republications, mixed republications, and a direct, non-redemptive reenactment of Adam’s pre-fall covenantal probation.

Administrative Republication (compatible with WCF)

administration: By “administration” of the covenant of grace, covenant theologians denote the outward means by which, or a redemptive era in which, the benefits of Christ’s redemption are communicated to the elect. Thus, while the covenant of grace is the same in substance in the old and new covenants, it is administered differently in the old covenant age of promise (e.g., through promises, types and sacrifices) than in the new covenant age of fulfillment and the advent of Christ (cf. WCF 7.5; 8.6).

administrative republication: republication occurs when the covenant of works is declared (but not made) or materially present in the administration of the covenant of grace. However, there is not a substantial republication of the covenant of works as the way of obtaining eternal life through perfect obedience.

declarative republication: the covenant of works broken with Adam is declared at Mt. Sinai to communicate the grace of conviction of sin, and function antecedently as a schoolmaster to lead Israel to Christ.

material republication: a second promulgation of a works principle that operates without reference to redemptive grace at any point or any level.

misinterpretation principle: the notion that Paul, in texts such as Gal 3 and Rom 10:4–5, is refuting a Jewish misinterpretation of the law (namely, that the Mosaic law contained a substantial republication of the covenant of works).

misinterpretive republication: the idea that the covenant of works is not actually republished in a substantial sense in the Mosaic covenant but is present only in the misunderstanding of those who opposed Paul’s teaching of a substantially gracious Mosaic covenant. Hence, the language of contrast between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants rests in the minds of Paul’s opponents, but not in Paul’s actual theology.

accidental republication: in this understanding of republication the covenant of works is present in the Mosaic covenant merely as a byproduct of God’s intention and design. For example, it can be a byproduct of the misinterpretation theory. This would mean that there is no substantial republication of the covenant of works per se in the Mosaic covenant, but that such a republication is mistakenly perceived to be present through misunderstanding by the interpreter.

indirect redemptive reenactment: language that describes the way that Israel’s sin and exile from Canaan as a typological Son (Exod 4:23) recapitulates in a context adjusted to sin and redemptive typology Adam’s sin and exile from Eden (Gen 3:22ff.). This view would also construe the works principle operative in Israel at the national level as a redemptively recalibrated principle, differing in substance from yet similar in function to the prelapsarian works principle in Eden. As such, the redemptive works principle that applies to national Israel tethers typical land maintenance to Israel’s corporate fidelity to the Lord under the covenant of grace. [“Just as an individual who turns apostate loses eschatological inheritance, so national Israel in apostasy loses the typal kingdom-inheritance in Canaan. This reality can be helpfully understood in terms of the analogy with church discipline of individuals—the difference being that Israel experiences a sort of corporate form of church disciple focused to the loss of the typico-symbolic inheritance land of Canaan… This, as we have seen, comprises the essence of the works principle relative to judgment in the typal kingdom.”]

recapitulative republication: the idea that national Israel’s sin and exile from Canaan functions to present in typological forms adjusted to redemptive history the sin and exile of Adam from Eden.

Substantial Republication (incompatible with WCF)

substance: in covenant theology, a discussion of the “substance” of God’s covenant involves the essential nature of, and/or condition of, the covenant. The covenant of grace promises eternal life and salvation through faith in Christ. The covenant of works promises eternal life on the condition of perfect, personal, exact and entire obedience to God’s moral law.

substantial republication: the view that the Mosaic covenant is essentially characterized as a works arrangement in terms of its fundamental principle or condition. A substantial republication of the covenant of works would therefore be different in kind from the covenant grace. [“Is the Mosaic covenant itself a covenant of works, a covenant of grace, or something else? At other times, the question was asked relatively, focusing on the relationship between the old and new covenants. Is the Mosaic covenant the same in substance as the Abrahamic and new covenant administrations of the covenant of grace?[96] Whatever the approach, the focus was same: identifying the substance of the Mosaic covenant. The key question turns on whether there is a substantial difference between the Mosaic covenant and the covenant of grace… [The idea] that the Sinai covenant is in substance or kind a covenant of works in contrast to a covenant of grace. The language utilized to express this fact has been varied, but (on this reading) produces a similar theological result. The nature of the Mosaic covenant is said to be “legal” or governed by a works principle in contrast to grace; it is said to be a different covenant that is different in kind from characteristically gracious Abrahamic covenant; it is said to be a covenant that is itself not gracious; or that it places Israel under an arrangement that is fundamentally similar or analogous to the original covenant of works with Adam. Put absolutely, the Sinai covenant itself is therefore substantially not a covenant of grace, but a distinct covenantal arrangement governed by a works principle. Put relatively, this language means that the Sinai covenant and the Abrahamic and new covenant are not really the same covenant differing only in degree or circumstances, but in substance or essence.”]

subservient covenant: the view that the Mosaic covenant in substance, and at the national level as opposed to the individual level, promises temporal life in Canaan upon condition of perfect obedience to the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws.

direct, non-redemptive reenactment: on the reading of Kline as advocate of substantial republication, this view would understand the Mosaic covenant to enshrine a non-redemptive works principle that is republished from the prelapsarian covenant with Adam and thereby places Israel under what is in substance a covenant of works relative to land retention.

Hybrid?

Measured by our historical taxonomy, the idea that the Mosaic covenant is in substance or kind a “works” covenant, but at the same time an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace, seems to create a hybrid position that combines elements of positions that viewed themselves as alternatives to one another. Simply stated, there were really only two categorical options for speaking of the Mosaic covenant within the systemic framework of historic Reformed covenant theology, with various other possible permutations under each.

The Mosaic covenant was either a covenant of grace that differed only in administration from the Abrahamic and new covenants (among others), or it was a substantially distinct covenant that stood in essential contrast to grace.

Works Principle

works principle: In Kline’s writings, a “works principle” is, on an administrative reading, a covenantal feature that tethers the acquisition or loss of a promised inheritance to the representative obedience or disobedience of a sinless federal head (Adam or Christ), a believer (e.g., Abraham), or a nation (Israel). As such, the works principle is not identical to the covenant of works with Adam, because it can operate in both pre-redemptive and redemptive settings. A works principle, on a substantial reading of Kline, would denote the reappearance of a graceless principle of Adamic probation, set in substantial contrast to redemptive grace, that is applied at the typological level to the nation of Israel. [“A fourth phrase commonly associated with the discussion of republication is the “works principle.” When defining the works principle, it is first important to distinguish it from what it is not. It is not identical to the idea of retribution as discussed in biblical studies. Retribution can be stated simply as the notion that God rewards the good that men do and punishes their evil… a works principle, broadly and strictly conceived as it relates to republication, is not merely a discussion about the retributive principle found in the Scriptures. Broadly defined, a works principle is merely communicating obligations with sanctions.”]

Leviticus 18:5, the Works Principle, and Apostasy: Corporate and Individual

Apostasy occurs when an individual in the new covenant fails to appropriate the indicative of the gospel and walk by faith working in love (cf. Rom 1:5; Gal 5:6). The individual is cut off from the covenant community, invoking the curse sanction of the covenant, and loses eschatological inheritance.

Put a bit differently, blessing in the new covenant operates within the contingent confidence of one who, by virtue of Spirit-wrought union with Christ, walks by faith and not by sight. This may be expressed in confessional language as “improving our baptism” by faith and obedience in union and communion with Christ (cf. LC 167). Kline speaks of a form of conditionality that appends to the covenant of grace, due to the fact that the Lord’s demand for holiness is consistent in its expression.[234] The sacraments of circumcision and baptism, while holding forth the promised indicative, do so in such a way that the demands for consecration and holiness are escalated and perfected. Finally, and underwriting these points, Kline appeals to the dual sanctions of the covenant of grace, both in its old and new covenant administrations.

Let us now briefly extend this discussion, using Kline’s sacramental theology to guide us. Explaining Israel’s exile and loss of national election in relation to apostasy under the covenant of grace, we can say that circumcision has a judgment function when applied to the “uncircumcised heart” of national Israel in a manner similar to the way it has a judgment function in relation to an “uncircumcised heart” of an individual within Israel (or in the Abrahamic or new covenant). Moses and the prophets appeal to the fact that Israel as a nation has an uncircumcised heart (Deut 10:16; Jer. 4:4). This uncircumcision brings the nation under the threatened sanctions of the covenant in a manner analogous to the way that an uncircumcised heart brings an individual under the threatened sanction of the covenant of grace. In both instances, there is a threatened sanction—a judgment according to sinful works—that is expressed.

Where, then, is the difference? The difference between national Israel and the individual in the new covenant is that Israel as a nation bears the curse sanction of circumcision at a typico-symbolic level. The substance of that reality consists in Israel’s apostasy invoking the curse sanction of circumcision in a unique, typological setting whereby the nation forfeits the typal kingdom. Just as an individual who turns apostate loses eschatological inheritance, so national Israel in apostasy loses the typal kingdom-inheritance in Canaan. This reality can be helpfully understood in terms of the analogy with church discipline of individuals—the difference being that Israel experiences a sort of corporate form of church disciple focused to the loss of the typico-symbolic inheritance land of Canaan.

This, as we have seen, comprises the essence of the works principle relative to judgment in the typal kingdom. In both instances, the apostate, whether individual or national, is judged according to a principle of works. Failure to demonstrate appropriate fidelity to the Lord, whether individual or national, results in a judgment to be borne by the individual or nation, the latter being in the form of exile from Canaan. And insofar as Israel bears the threatened circumcision curse at the national level, there is a repetition of sin in the likeness of Adam and a repudiation of the faith-obedience of Abraham. The uniqueness of Israel’s apostasy turns on the fact that judgment expresses itself in the form of typological land loss, which adds a unique feature to Israel’s national apostasy that in the final analysis redemptive-historically reenacts the sin and exile of Adam.

This theme of covenantal judgment continues with the sacramental significance of baptism in the new covenant. Baptism, like circumcision, brings dual sanctions into view.


Comments

The idea that the Mosaic Covenant is different in substance from the Abrahamic and/or New Covenants is contrary to the WCF. If the condition of the Mosaic Covenant differs from the condition of the Abrahamic/New Covenant, then it differs in substance. According to the WCF, the condition of the Abrahamic/New Covenant of Grace is faith in Christ. Therefore, according to the WCF, the condition of the Mosaic Covenant is also faith in Christ. The Mosaic Covenant offers the land of Canaan as a type of heaven. It was received and retained through faith in Christ. The dual sanctions (blessings and curses) of the Mosaic Covenant (Deut 28) are sanctions of the Covenant of Grace and are included in every administration of the Covenant of Grace, including the New. Leviticus 18:5 epitomizes these dual sanctions. In its original context, Leviticus 18:5 states the condition of the Covenant of Grace: a “redemptive works principle.” This obedience to the law is not contrary to faith, it is of faith. Paul’s quotation of Leviticus 18:5 in “texts such as Gal 3 and Rom 10:4–5 is refuting a Jewish misinterpretation of the law… Hence, the language of contrast between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants rests in the minds of Paul’s opponents, but not in Paul’s actual theology.” As corporate Israel’s retention of the promised land depended upon their faith and Spirit-wrought works according to Lev. 18:5, so too the individual’s retention of their eschatological inheritance depends on their faith and Spirit-wrought works according to Lev. 18:5 (note that Lev 18:5 is a proof text for WCF 19.6 in the OPC Standards).

Further Reading

Podcast Discussion of Theonomy (According to Christ)

August 29, 2018 5 comments

I recently discussed the issue of theonomy on the According to Christ podcast. It’s a complicated topic, so it takes more than an hour to discuss, but hopefully we touched on enough points to lead people into further study. I try to be as detailed as possible in my analysis and criticism because Bahnsen was as detailed as possible in his defense. He listened to critics (not always fully, imo) and gave detailed replies. My argument does not simply rest on a general, vague appeal to typology. Rather, I seek to provide very concrete arguments from typology – more concretely than Bahnsen’s previous critics. However, an adequately thorough presentation of these arguments would require a book, not a podcast.

At one point I misspoke. I stated that Bahnsen could not understand Israel as a type of the church. Bahnsen stated on page 440 of Theonomy in Christian Ethics “With respect to typology it might be suggested that Israel as a nation is a type of the church of Christ. There is certainly scriptural warrant for that comparison.” Bahnsen then proceeded to demonstrate the incompleteness of a general appeal to the typology of Israel, insisting that any argument from typology much be very specific in how Israel’s typology translates into the abrogation of certain penal sanctions. Bahnsen said

[S]ince the argument from typology would appear to contradict the direct assertion of Scripture (cf. Matt. 5:17-19), then much more than a typological connection must be mentioned. It must be demonstrated that Scripture warrants the suggested inference from the typological connection to the argumentative conclusion. The artistic and pedagogical designs inherent in the Scriptures certainly must not be ignored or despised; however, neither must they be abused by trying to make them say something which Scripture itself does not say. The infallible interpreter of Scripture is not an imaginative model brought to bear on the data of the Bible (thus threatening to operate like a Procrustean bed) but is the Scripture itself (Westminster Confession of Faith, I.IX). Without specific biblical moorings and key didactic confirmations, from point to point, typology degenerates either to allegory or a mere projection of the typologists clever or artistic imagination.

I agree and have thus sought to be concrete in my arguments from typology. Lord willing I will be able to put those arguments down in the more concrete form of a book in the future. For now, I hope the brief podcast discussion is helpful.

Are Good Works More Than Fruit?

October 27, 2016 12 comments

D. Patrick Ramsey regularly writes the most direct and helpful summaries of a view I disagree with. While most discussions on the role of good works quickly devolve into confusion and endless circles and talking passed one another, Ramsey’s posts cut to the chase – which makes dialogue much more meaningful.

In a post over at Meet the Puritans, he explains that when he and others (like Mark Jones) argue against “Antinomianism,” what they are arguing against is the idea that our good works are only a fruit of our faith. The role of the law as a guide in the believer’s life is not the issue. Both sides agree on that. Rather, Ramsey argues “We don’t engage in good works merely because we live or are saved, we are to do them in order to live or to salvation.”

The “narrow way” is not Christ, but your good works (which they would say is Christ’s work in us).

Another common way the puritans articulated this same point was by covenant conditions. Sincere obedience is a consequent condition of justification and an antecedent condition of glorification… Good works, therefore, are more than fruit in that they are necessary for salvation as the way to eternal life and as an antecedent condition of glorification.

You will not merely have fruit when you are glorified, your fruit is a condition of whether or not you will be glorified. He says Tobias Crisp was wrong when he said that true Christians ought and will produce good works, but they are not required to and indeed they shouldn’t pursue holiness in order to avoid damnation and to possess heaven.

I don’t think it can be stated any clearer. Now go study Leviticus 18:5 and decide what you believe. Here are two posts that explain why I agree with Crisp and the “Antinomians”

Murray on Lev. 18:5 – Why Did John Murray Reject the Covenant of Works?

October 17, 2016 13 comments

[Lord willing, I will further revise/expand this post in the future (feedback is appreciated). I’m posting it for now to provide context for the OPC Report on Republication.]

John Murray said he rejected the Covenant of Works for two reasons:

(1) The term is not felicitous, for the reason that the elements of grace entering into the administration are not properly provided for by the term ‘works’.

(2) It is not designated a covenant in Scripture. Hosea 6:7 may be interpreted otherwise and does not provide the basis for such a construction of the Adamic economy. Besides, Scripture always uses the term covenant, when applied to God’s administration to men, in reference to a provision that is redemptive or closely related to redemptive design. Covenant in Scripture denotes the oath-bound confirmation of promise and involves a security which the Adamic economy did not bestow.

The Adamic Administration

Some have argued that John Murray did not reject the covenant of works. They insist that all the elements of the Covenant of Works are present in his view, he just chose not to use that language. This argument has plausibility with regards to Murray’s rejection of the term “covenant.” All one has to do is point out that he defined covenant wrong. He still held to all the elements of a covenant with Adam when covenant is properly defined.

However, most tend to overlook the much more important reason Murray had for rejecting the Covenant of Works. Murray explicitly argued that the reward of eternal life would not have been by works. It would have been a gift of God’s grace, not a reward of debt according to justice. What Murray was rejecting was the concept of ex pacto or covenantal merit, known as “the works principle.” Thus, while one could argue he held to an Adamic Covenant (by rejecting Murray’s definition of covenant), he did not hold to an Adamic Covenant of Works.

Part of his argument is that there is no works principle found anywhere in Scripture – pre or post-fall. “In connection with the promise of life it does not appear justifiable to appeal, as frequently has been done, to the principle enunciated in certain texts (cf. Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12), ‘This do and thou shalt live’.”

In a paper on confessional subscription, J.V. Fesko says

Murray did not accept the Standards’ teaching regarding the Covenant of Works… Murray did not believe that he held to the common Reformed position that was historically advocated by Reformed theologians or by the Westminster Standards. In fact, he saw himself as a self-avowed revisionist on the subject of covenant theology…

What led Murray to reject the Covenant of Works?

Many focus on the rise of dispensationalism and Murray’s response to it as an explanation for his rejection of the Covenant of Works. In other words, he just over-reacted to dispensationalism by flattening out all of Scripture.

However, Murray actually said he was influenced by Karl Barth on this point. Ligon Duncan explains:

Now, here is the inside scoop. As Donald Macleod talked with John Murray when he came back from Scotland, there were a number of things that had made a major impact on Murray with regard to Covenant Theology. For one thing, Murray was impacted by Vos and by a guy named Adolph Desmond. Desmond was a big time German New Testament scholar at the turn of the twentieth century who had argued very strongly that Covenant should not be translated as a contract or a treaty or a mutual relationship, but it ought to be translated as a disposition or a testament, something that was one-sided as opposed to two-sided. And Desmond did this because he had uncovered all this literature from Greek legal documents contemporary to the New Testament and many New Testament scholars followed Desmond for a period of time. His views have since then been overturned, but he was very influential in the first part of the twentieth century. And so Murray was very influenced by this one-sided idea of covenant. And he found the obediential aspect of the historic Covenant of Works to be a little two-sided for his taste. So, you will see him, when he defines covenant in his little tract called The Covenant of Grace, he will define it in a very one-sided, a very monopluric sort of way. And he is following Vos there and he is following Desmond.

But, the other interesting thing is, is that Murray indicated to Macleod that he had actually been impacted a bit by Barth’s argumentation on the nature of the Covenant of Works and so although Murray would have been stridently in opposition to Barth’s doctrine of the Scripture and his doctrine of the Atonement, yet he was swayed to a certain extent by some of Barth’s arguments regarding Covenant of Works. And Macleod had opportunity to interact with him on that and argue against those particular points, but Murray held to his objections and to this day, Westminster Seminary has tended to be a little bit skittish about the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace framework.

Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace (lecture)

Cornelis P. Venema elaborates in a journal article titled Recent Criticisms of the Covenant of Works in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Murray, though a faithful exponent of the system of doctrine contained in the WCF, was perhaps more critical of this aspect of the WCF than he was of any other.  Based upon his own biblical-theological reflection, Murray offered several of what he believed were needed correctives to the traditional formulations of federal theology, including the classical form found in the WCF…

There are several respects in which Murray’s treatment of this Adamic administration differs from traditional covenant theology.  As we have already noted, this difference is partially terminological… But the divergence is far more than terminological…

This promise [of eternal life] would not be granted upon the principle of strict justice or merit — God’s justice does not require that Adam should ever be granted the status of immutability in fellowship with God — but would be expression of God’s undeserved favor…

[In connection with the promise of life it does not appear justifiable to appeal, as frequently has been done, to the principle enunciated in certain texts (cf. Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12), ‘This do and thou shalt live’. The principle asserted in these texts is the principle of equity, that righteousness is always followed by the corresponding award. From the promise of the Adamic administration we must dissociate all notions of meritorious reward. The promise of confirmed integrity and blessedness was one annexed to an obedience that Adam owed and, therefore, was a promise of grace. All that Adam could have claimed on the basis of equity was justification and life as long as he perfectly obeyed, but not confirmation so as to insure indefectibility. Adam could claim the fulfilment of the promise if he stood the probation, but only on the basis of God’s faithfulness, not on the basis of justice.]

Murray also challenged another commonplace of the older federal theology, namely, that the Mosaic economy or covenant included within itself a repetition of the obligation of obedience, first enunciated in the covenant of works.

The view that in the Mosaic covenant there was a repetition of the so-called covenant of works, current among covenant theologians, is a grave misconception and involves an erroneous construction of the Mosaic covenant, as well as fails to assess the uniqueness of the Adamic administration.  The Mosaic covenant was distinctly redemptive in character and was continuous with and extensive of the Abrahamic covenants.[32]

Apparently, because Murray wants to emphasize the gracious and sovereign disposition of the Adamic arrangement, as well as the essential graciousness of the biblical covenant of grace, he does not want to admit the legal requirement of obedience to be as integral to this arrangement or the post-fall covenant of grace, as was typically the case in the history of covenant theology.

Venema goes on to argue that WCF 7.1, which describes God’s voluntary condescension in the creation of the Covenant of Works, satisfactorily answers Murray’s concerns about the gracious nature of the promise of eternal life.

This emphasis upon all of God’s covenants as voluntary condescensions preserves, it seems to me, the WCF from the charge of depriving the original covenant of the element of God’s favor and goodness, as though it were only a matter of strict justice between a Master and his servant.  Moreover, by its apparent distinction between the original natural state in which “reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him [God] as their Creator” and the covenant of works, the WCF preserves the element of unmerited bestowal and grant in this original covenant.  It simply cannot be argued convincingly that the WCF neglects this component of the original covenant relationship between God and the creature before the fall into sin and the institution of the covenant of grace.

Leviticus 18:5

But if WCF 7.1 easily addresses Murray’s concern, why did Murray still have a concern? Did he not understand 7.1? That’s possible – after all, Van Til certainly caused some confusion. But I don’t think that was the case with Murray. As the chair of systematic theology and one acquainted with historical theology, I doubt Murray was oblivious to something that was obvious to Venema.

In fact, I think it was actually Murray’s acquaintance with the confession and his systematic concern that motivated his revision. I think Murray recognized that the Westminster Confession is self-contradictory on this point and he sought to iron it out.

If you recall Murray’s quote above about the works principle, he mentions Lev 18:5, Gal 3:12, Rom 10:5 as the texts frequently appealed to to articulate the works principle of the Covenant of Works. The WCF cites Gal 3:12 and Rom 10:5 as proof of the covenant of works (in the catechism as well). However, it does not quote Lev 18:5. Why not? Well, because Leviticus 18:5 states the terms of the Mosaic Covenant, which the Westminster Confession says is the Covenant of Grace. Therefore Leviticus 18:5 cannot be a statement of the terms of the Covenant of Works.

In a very helpful WTJ essay titled In Defense of Moses, D. Patrick Ramsey explains why Leviticus 18:5 was not included in the Standards as a proof-text for the Covenant of Works.

Objection 4: In expounding the covenant of works made with Adam the Westminster Confession of Faith uses Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:12 as proof texts. Both of these texts quote Lev 18:5, which refers to the Mosaic Covenant. Therefore, the Divines understood the Mosaic Covenant to be a covenant of works.

The texts that the Westminster Standards used to expound the Covenant of Works are Gen 1:26-27; 2:17; Job 28:28; Eccl 7:29; Rom 2:14-15; 5:12-20; 10:5; Gal 3:10; 3:12 (WCF 7.2; 19.1). None of these texts are from the Mosaic Covenant; however, Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:10, 12 quote verses from the Mosaic Covenant.

The reasons for appealing to these New Testament quotations of Moses vary among the writings of the Puritans. [1] Some believed that they taught that the Covenant of Works was renewed at Mount Sinai though with evangelical purposes and intentions… [2] A similar position stated that these passages taught that the Mosaic Law contained a restatement of the principle of works. It was not re-established or renewed, only republished and repeated in order to drive men to Christ…

[3] A third Puritan position understood the proof texts used by the Westminster Confession of Faith to refer to the Law absolutely or separated from the Gospel. When the Mosaic Law is taken out of its context, then and only then does it become contrary to the Gospel by becoming the matter (describes the righteousness required in the Covenant of Works) and/or form (offers life by works) of the Covenant of Works. Hence, passages like Deut 27:26 and Lev 18:5 did not, in their original intent, renew or repeat the Covenant of Works.

The Pharisees and Judaizers of Paul’s day distorted the Law by separating it from the Gospel and used it for their justification before God. Paul’s quotations of Moses in Romans and Galatians are thus referring to the Jews’ perversion of the Law. In so doing the apostle expounds the principle of works, which is applicable to the Covenant of Works made with Adam.

Of these three possible explanations for the use of Gal 3:10, 12 and Rom 10:5 as proof texts for the Covenant of Works, the third is the most likely. This is so because the Divines did not use Lev 18:5, Deut 27:26, or any passage pertaining to the Mosaic Covenant as proof texts. If they had understood the Mosaic Covenant to be a renewal or republication of the Covenant of Works, they probably would have appealed to the Law of Moses directly, as many Puritans did.

So, according to this view, the moral law itself, separated from the Gospel, contains the works principle. In it’s original context, Leviticus 18:5 is a statement of the moral law in the Covenant of Grace. But in quoting Leviticus 18:5, Paul abstracts the law from it’s context in the Mosaic Covenant of Grace and applies it to his situation with the Judaizers. Guy P. Waters, in his chapter in The Law is Not of Faith titled Romans 10:5 and the Covenant of Works? argues this point.

Paul considers the moral demands of the Mosaic law, in distinction from the gracious covenant in which they were formally promulgated, to set forth the standard of righteousness required by the covenant of works.[1]

[1]  This position for which I will be arguing is essentially that argued by Anthony Burgess, “The Law (as to this purpose) may be considered more largely, as that whole doctrine delivered on Mount Sinai, with the preface and promises adjoyned, and all things that may be reduced to it; or more strictly, as it is an abstracted rule of righteousnesse, holding forth life upon no termes, but perfect obedience. Now take it in the former sense, it was a Covenant of grace; take it in the later sense, as abstracted from Moses his administration of it, and so it was not of grace, but workes,” Vindiciae Legis: Or, A Vindication of the Morall Law and the Covenants, from the Errours of
Papists, Arminians, Socinians, and more especially, Antinomians. In XXX. Lectures, preached at Laurence-Jury, London (2d ed.; London, 1647), 235. Anthony Burgess was a member of the Westminster Assembly and served on the committee that drafted WCF 19 (“Of the Law of God”). 

Waters actually quotes from Murray’s Appendix B “Leviticus 18:5” from his Romans commentary at this point, demonstrating Murray has accurately pinpointed a crucial question.

John Murray observes that “[The problem that arises from this use of Lev. 18:5 is that the latter text does not appear in a context that deals with legal righteousness as opposed to that of faith.] Lev. 18:5 is in a context in which the claims of God upon his redeemed and covenant people are being asserted and urged upon Israel… [It] refers not to the life accruing from doing in a legalistic framework but to the blessing attendant upon obedience in a redemptive and covenant relationship to God.” If the Scripture teaches that the Mosaic administration is an administration of the covenant of grace, as the Westminster divines affirm (7.5), then how could Paul have interpreted Lev 18:5 as he has? How could he have taken a passage which, in context, appears to refer to the sanctificational works of a redeemed person within the covenant community, and apply this text to individuals seeking the righteousness of justification on the basis of their performance?… Has Paul misquoted Leviticus 18:5 at Romans 10:5?

Waters’ proposed solution is that the moral law itself inherently includes the works principle (ex pacto merit) unless the works principle is stripped away by coming to us through the hand of Christ, as it did in the Mosaic Covenant. As I demonstrated in another post, the problem with this view is that it contradicts WCF 7.1, which teaches that the law itself does not offer any reward for obedience to the law and therefore does not include any works principle. The works principle is only added to the law in the Covenant of Works.

Murray was sharper than Waters on this point. I believe he recognized that Waters’ solution (repeating a historic solution) was no solution at all because it was self-contradictory in that it conflated the law and the covenant of works on this point while elsewhere necessarily distinguishing them (see the Waters post).

Murray’s Solution

Commenting on Romans 10:5, Murray says that “’The man that doeth the righteousness of the law shall live thereby”, is, of itself, an adequate and watertight definition of the principle of legalism. (See Appendix B, pp. 249ff., for fuller discussion.)”  In Appendix B: Leviticus 18:5 he argues that this principle is “the principle of equity in God’s government” and there are “three distinct relationships in which [it] has relevance.”

1… Wherever there is righteousness to the full extent of God’s demand there must also be the corresponding justification and life… God’s judgment is always according to truth. Perfect righteousness must elicit God’s favour or complacency and with this favour is the life that is commensurate with it. This would have obtained for Adam in sinless integrity apart from any special constitution that special grace would have contemplated.

Note well: this principle applied to Adam prior to and apart from God’s condescension to reward his obedience – that is, prior to and apart from any Covenant of Works. Recall what Murray said in his Adamic Administration essay. “All that Adam could have claimed on the basis of equity was justification and life as long as he perfectly obeyed, but not confirmation so as to insure indefectibility.” In other words, “life” according to this principle is not “eternal life” but merely “not death.”

2. The principle ‘the man who does shall live’ must be regarded as totally inoperative within the realm of sin… In alluding to Lev. 18:5 at this point he uses the formula ‘the man that doeth… shall live thereby’ as a proper expression in itself of the principle of works-righteousness in contrast with the righteousness of faith. We have no right to contest the apostle’s right to use the terms of Lev. 18:5 for this purpose since they do describe that which holds true when law-righteousness is operative unto justification and life and also express the conception entertained by the person who espouses the same as the way of acceptance with God (cf. also Gal. 3:12).

In other words, the second relationship is in reference to the first, but at a time when man has already fallen. It is a hypothetical statement of what is true if man had not fallen, but that is now “totally inoperative within the realm of sin.” This is how Paul uses it in Romans 10:5. He is adopting “the conception entertained by the person who espouses” righteousness by the law.

3… righteousness and life are never separable. Within the realm of justification by grace through faith there is not only acceptance with God as righteous in the righteousness of Christ but there is also the new life which the believer lives… So Paul can say in the most absolute terms, ‘If ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (8:13). In the realm of grace, therefore, obedience is the way of life. He that does the commandments of God lives in them. The fruit of the Spirit is well-pleasing to God… It is this principle that appears in Lev. 18:5…

Lev. 18:1-5 is parallel to Exod. 20:1-17; Deut 5:6-21… The whole passage is no more “legalistic” than are the ten commandments. Hence the words “which if a man do, he shall live in them” (vs. 5) refers not to the life accruing from doing in a legalistic framework but to the blessing attendant upon obedience in a redemptive and covenant relationship to God.

Note the difference between Murray and Waters. Waters says Paul can quote Leviticus 18:5 on this point because the moral demands of the law itself set forth the works principle found in the Covenant of Works. When the gracious covenant context is added to the law, this works principle is removed. Waters notes that WCF 7.2 references Romans 10:5. Murray rejects the confession on this point arguing there is no works principle and no Covenant of Works.

The problem with Murray’s attempted explanation is that it does not sufficiently explain how Paul can quote Leviticus 18:5 as expressing law righteousness since it, in fact, does not. Paul does not say “according to a mistaken conception entertained by the person who espouses a law righteousness that no longer applies, the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” Rather, Paul says “Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” If Leviticus 18:5 “refers not to the life accuring from doing in a legalistic framework” then Moses did not “write about the righteousness that is based on the law.” Paul did not merely “allude” to Leviticus 18:5, nor did he merely “use the terms of Lev. 18:5.” Paul quoted Moses’ teaching on law-righteousness.

WCF 19.6

When the OPC was formed, it established a Committee on Texts and Proof Texts, headed by John Murray.

As a preliminary step toward the printing of the doctrinal standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Seventh General Assembly (1940) established a Committee on Texts and Proof Texts (consisting of John Murray [chairman], E. J. Young, and Ned B. Stonehouse, who was replaced in 1941 by John H. Skilton) to study the texts and proof texts of those documents. That Committee submitted to the Eighteenth General Assembly (1951) “the text of the Confession of Faith, together with the proof texts as revised by the Committee.” The text, except for the revisions that had been adopted by the Second General Assembly in 1936, was “derived from the original manuscript written by Cornelius Burges in 1646, edited by S. W. Carruthers [in 1937] and published by the Presbyterian Church of England in 1946.” That text of the Confession, with a few corrections, was adopted by the Twentysecond General Assembly (1955), approved by nearly all the presbyteries, and adopted again by the Twenty-third General Assembly (1956). The proof texts prepared by the Committee were accepted for publication. The Confession was then published with these proof texts (as citations, not full texts) by the Committee on Christian Education and reprinted by Great Commission Publications

The Scripture proof texts were originally prepared by the Westminster divines, revised over the years by a succession of committees, and approved for publication by various general assemblies of the OPC, but are not a part of the constitution itself.

http://www.opc.org/documents/Preface.pdf

The original Westminster Confession did not cite Leviticus 18:5 anywhere. In light of the resolution that Murray arrived at, he added Lev 18:5 as a proof text to WCF 19.6.

VI. Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned;[a] yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs, and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives;[c] so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof;[s] although not as due to them by the law, as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace.

s. Ex. 19:5–6. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Deut. 5:33. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess. Lev. 18:5. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord. Matt. 19:17. And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Lev. 26:1–13. … If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.… For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.… And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.… 2 Cor. 6:16. And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Eph. 6:2–3. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. Ps. 19:11. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Ps. 37:11. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. Matt. 5:5. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

OPC Westminster Confession
(compare with 1646 WCF)

Judgment According to Works

Note that Matthew 19:17 was added as well. This raises an interesting question as to how Murray saw this principle in relation to “life” and the final judgment for the redeemed Christian. In a lecture titled “Justification” contained in his Collected Writings, Murray says

While it makes void the gospel to introduce works in connection with justification, nevertheless works done in faith, from the motive of love to God, in obedience to the revealed will of God and to the end of his glory are intrinsically good and acceptable to God. As such they will be the criterion of reward in the life to come. This is apparent from such passages as Matthew 10:41; 1 Corinthians 3:8–9, 11–15; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:7. We must maintain therefore, justification complete and irrevocable by grace through faith and apart from works, and at the same time, future reward according to works. In reference to these two doctrines it is important to observe the following:

(i) This future reward is not justification and contributes nothing to that which constitutes justification. (ii) This future reward is not salvation. Salvation is by grace and it is not as a reward for works that we are saved. (iii) The reward has reference to the degree of glory bestowed in the state of bliss, that is, the station a person is to occupy in glory and does not have reference to the gift of glory itself. (iv) This reward is not administered because good works earn or merit reward, but because God is graciously pleased to reward them. That is to say it is a reward of grace. (In the Romish scheme good works have real merit and constitute the ground of the title to everlasting life.) The good works are rewarded because they are intrinsically good and well-pleasing to God. They are not rewarded because they earn reward but they are rewarded only as labour, work or service that is the fruit of God’s grace, conformed to his will and therefore intrinsically good and well-pleasing to him. They could not even be rewarded of grace if they were principally and intrinsically evil.

He held that there was a future judgment for God’s redeemed people, but only to determine the degree of reward they will receive in glory, not whether they will enter glory. However, as we just saw, Matthew 19:17 was cited in order to explain “what blessings [Christians] may expect upon the performance” of the law. Matthew 19:17 is Jesus’ answer to the rich young man who asked “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” – that is, to enter glory, as Jesus replied “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Thus there appears to be a bit of tension in Murray’s thought on this point. Note his commentary on Romans 2:5-16 where he rejects the hypothetical view held by older reformed theologians.

The reward of this aspiration is in like manner the eschatology of the believer, “eternal life”… Could God judge any unto the reward of eternal life (cf. vs. 7) if works are the criteria? ‘The apostle thus speaks, not in the way of abstract hypothesis but of concrete assertion… He says not what God would do were He to proceed in accordance with the primal rule and standard of the law, but what, proceeding according to that rule, He will actually do.’… The determining factor in the rewards of retribution or of glory is not the privileged position of the Jew but evil-doing or well-doing respectively.

Samuel Waldron notes

Murray’s lecture on justification contained in the Collected Writings affirms that works only have to do with the degree of reward in glory, while in his Romans commentary he affirms that the judgment by works which has the twin consequences of eternal life and wrath is not hypothetical.  I see no way to evade the fact of some contradiction between the two statements…

I think a good argument could be made that the Romans commentary contains Murray’s more mature and definitive thoughts.  This is so for two reasons.  First, as Iain Murray notes in his introduction to CW 2 (vi-ix) Murray resisted appeals to publish the class lectures from which the article on justification in CW 2 is taken.  It seems clear, then, that his commentary which he wrote for publication should be given some precedence over the lecture in CW 2.  Also the commentary was published in 1959 only 7 years before his retirement from Westminster in 1966.  The lecture likely dates from much earlier in his tenure at Westminster where he taught systematic theology from 1930.

Is There a Future Justification by Works at the Day of Judgment? # 10

So there appears to be development in Murray’s thought as he works out the implications of Leviticus 18:5. Returning to his commentary, note that verse 13 goes on to say “the doers of the law who will be justified,” which leads Murray directly towards a dangerous position. He attempts to put on the brakes

It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching of this epistle in later chapters. Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture. The burden of this verse is that not the hearers or mere possessors of the law will be justified before God but that in terms of the law the criterion is doing, not hearing. The apostle’s appeal to this principle serves that purpose truly and effectively, and there is no need to import questions that are not relevant to the universe of discourse.

This is the first occasion that the word “justify” is used in this epistle. Although it is not used here with reference to the justification which is the grand theme of the epistle, the forensic meaning of the term is evident even in this case. “Shall be justified” is synonymous with “just before God” and the latter refers to standing or status in the sight of God. To justify, therefore, would be the action whereby men would be recognized as just before God or the action whereby men are given the status of being just in God’s sight. For a fuller treatment of the nature of justification and the meaning of the terms the reader is referred to the appendix on this subject (pp. 336 ff).

Murray attempts to backpedal by arguing that “will be justified” is hypothetical, in direct contradiction to his previous statements about the passage. As a result, you will actually get two different interpretations of Murray, some saying he denied the hypothetical interpretation, others saying he agreed with it. (See here and here as examples)

Conclusion

In an attempt to work out the contradictions in the system of theology found in the Westminster Confession, particularly the idea that the Mosaic Covenant of Works was the Covenant of Grace, John Murray rejected the Covenant of Works on the grounds that Scripture does not teach a “works principle” in Leviticus 18:5 or anywhere else. Contrary to Guy Waters and others, Murray recognized that Leviticus 18:5 was the statement of a principle – the principle of equity – not simply the law itself. He therefore recognized that the principle found in Leviticus 18:5 and Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 must be the same. He recognized that if the principle found in Leviticus 18:5 is part of the terms of the Covenant of Grace, then that principle is not part of the terms of a Covenant of Works. Therefore the principle found in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 is not a Covenant of Works. Therefore Scripture does not teach a Covenant of Works.

As Murray began to iron out Westminster’s inconsistent appeal to Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12, he also began to iron out the implications of his view for the rest of his theology. We saw progression in his thought in the wrong direction – towards a false gospel of justification by works. He slammed on the breaks, but without a consistent explanation as to why – leaving it to his successors to work out.

A Post-Fall Covenant of Works?

October 1, 2016 2 comments

An objection is often raised as to how God could enter into a covenant of works with fallen sinners. (Note: “a” covenant of works, not “the” covenant of works)

It is argued that a covenant that operates upon a principle of works (If you do this, then you will get this) must start from the basis of innocence. If someone is innocent, then they can earn a reward. However, if they are not innocent, if they have a guilt that must be paid, then they cannot earn anything until that guilt is paid. So a fallen sinner cannot enter into a covenant of works for any kind of reward (even temporal) until that guilt is paid (which they cannot do).

It is a strong argument on the face of it. However, the problem is that Scripture throws us a curve ball. Leviticus 18:5 says that the Mosaic Covenant, which is made with fallen sinners, operates upon the principle of “if you do this, then you will get this.” That principle is repeated throughout the Old Testament, particularly in Ezekiel when Israel is being prosecuted for their violation of the covenant. Bryan D. Estelle notes

Leviticus 18:5’s influence on Ezekiel is of paramount importance. The purpose of these echoic allusions in Ezekiel is to show that what Israel has failed to do, God will do… Leviticus 18 allusions are seen throughout the entire book of Ezekiel and not merely restricted (as often) to chapter 20 of Ezekiel where three citations of Lev 18:5 have frequently been noted… Israel’s failure to fulfill the stipulations is highlighted repeatedly in Ezekiel 1-24…

Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical Theological Development

Paul also quotes Leviticus 18:5 twice in the NT. Both times he does so to demonstrate the antithesis between the law and faith (Rom 10:5, Gal 3:12).

Those who object that God could not make a covenant of works with fallen man usually argue that Lev 18:5 is not stating the terms of the Mosaic Covenant. They claim it is just a reference, or proclamation of the original Adamic Covenant and it is just reminding Israelites of it. It’s not stating the terms of the Mosaic Covenant, they argue, only declaring the original terms of the Adamic Covenant. However, not only is this an impossible reading of the text itself, it fails the systematic test as well. (See Guy Waters on Leviticus 18:5)

So, biblically speaking, Lev 18:5 proves that a covenant made with fallen sinners operates upon a works principle. So there must be a problem with the original objection. The problem is that not only are fallen sinners unable to earn anything, fallen sinners are unable to breathe the very air they breathe each day and eat the food they eat each day. They deserve only God’s wrath and death. Yet somehow they continue to eat and breathe and live. That is because of God’s long-suffering towards them. All mankind deserved immediate eternal punishment upon Adam’s breach of his covenant of works. But God delayed and preserved mankind. God is willing and able, while maintaining his justice, to give them gifts (Matt. 5:45) when they only deserve wrath – and to do so apart from union with Christ.

So then what is preventing him from choosing some of those fallen sinners and offering them gifts above and beyond the norm (rain and sun) upon the condition that they do something? There can be no objection of injustice anymore than there can be an objection of injustice on God’s part towards every fallen sinner.

“But,” they will object, “that would mean that there is some kind of grace involved, and therefore it cannot be a covenant of works!” Not so fast. WCF/LBCF 7.1 teach that even the original Covenant of Works was established through God’s “voluntary condescension.” Mankind owed obedience to God by nature without the expectation of any reward, yet God “graciously” condescended to reward that obedience with something. So offering man something that he does not deserve, on the condition of his obedience, is not inconsistent with a covenant of works. Note what Owen says:

The covenant of works had its promises, but they were all remunerative, respecting an antecedent obedience in us; (so were all those which were peculiar unto the covenant of Sinai). They were, indeed, also of grace, in that the reward did infinitely exceed the merit of our obedience; but yet they all supposed it, and the subject of them was formally reward only.

(Hebrews 8:6 commentary)

Finally, here is how John Erskine answers:

But, if this reasoning proves anything, will it not prove, that a God of spotless purity, can enter into a friendly treaty with men, whom yet, on account of their sins, he utterly abhors. And what if it does? Perhaps, the assertion, however shocking at first view, may, on a narrower scrutiny, be found innocent. We assert not any inward eternal friendship between God and the unconverted Jews. We only assert an external temporal covenant, which, though it secured their outward prosperity, gave them no claim to God’s special favour. Where then is the alleged absurdity? Will you say it is unworthy of God to maintain external communion with sinners, or to impart to them any blessings? What then would become of the bulk of mankind? Nay, what would become of the patience and longsuffering of God? Or is it absurd, that God should reward actions that flow from bad motives when we have an undoubted instance of his doing this in the case pf Jehu? Or is it absurd, that God would entail favours on bad men, in the way of promise or covenant? Have you forgot God’s promise to Jehu, that his children of the fourth generation should sit on the throne of Israel? Or have you forgot, what concerns you more, God’s covenant with mankind in general, no more to destroy the earth by a flood (2 Kings 10:30; Gen 9:12)?

Dissertation I: The Nature of the Sinai Covenant, and the Character and Privileges of the Jewish Church(p. 15-16)

Thus there is no valid systematic objection to God making “a” covenant of works with fallen sinners concerning temporal life and blessing in the land of Canaan.

[Note: there is a valid objection God making “the” covenant of works with fallen sinners concerning eternal life. See Republication, the Mosaic Covenant, and Eternal Life.]

Can R. Scott Clark be Truly Reformed?

February 1, 2016 13 comments

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In a recent episode of the Calvinist Batman podcast, R. Scott Clark talks about Covenant Theology and Reformed Identity. My last post was a critique of his covenant theology. Here I just want to make a comment about his attitude towards reformed identity. Generally speaking, I can agree with much of what he says and I appreciate his emphasis on adhering to a confession of faith. However…

Speaking of theonomy, he says

The essence of theonomy is that the law of God, without distinguishing between civil, ceremonial, and moral, is still in force. Greg Bahnsen spoke about the abiding validity of the law of God in exhaustive detail. The great problem with that way of speaking is it’s flatly contrary to the way we speak in the reformed confessions, particularly, for example, in Westminster Confession 19.4, where we say “To them” that is, national Israel, “also as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws” now watch this, comma, ready? “which” the sundry judicial laws – did what? – “expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other now further than the general equity thereof may require.”

So I always say to my theonomic friends, “What don’t you understand about expired?”

[…]

It’s sort of a demonstration as to how unmoored we’ve become to the confession, that we have this debate about theonomy. I mean, in a way, we could have ended, and should have ended the whole debate with theonomy by saying, “Well, ok, we get that you don’t believe Westminster 19.4. Fine. Go away. You’re not reformed.” But tragically, because theonomists make a lot of noise, they’re visible. When you leave evangelicalism, it’s sort of one of the toll booths you have to go through to become reformed, is you have to pass through theonomy.

Now, I agree that theonomy is contrary to WCF 19.4. Read my post on it (which discuss it in relation to 1689 Federalism), as well as my analysis of a recent theonomy debate. But here’s the deal, R. Scott Clark’s covenant theology, known broadly as “republication,” which argues that the Mosaic Covenant operates upon a principle of works antithetical to the faith principle operative in the Covenant of Grace, is contrary to the WCF – specifically on chapter 19!

Robert B. Strimple was R. Scott Clark’s professor of systematic theology at WSC. Clark describes him as “my teacher, colleague, and friend.” Hardly someone with a personal vendetta or animosity towards Clark. Strimple is now the President emeritus & Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA. In that capacity, he recently wrote a memo to the faculty specifically addressing R. Scott Clark’s claims about chapter 19 of the WCF. Strimple notes:

let me delay an exposition of those two sections [19.1-2] —the only “exposition” required, I believe, being simply to emphasize what the Confession actually says here! —until I have first noted what the editors of TLNF say is the meaning of these sections, and what the argument of Dr. Clark is on which (according to one of those editors) that understanding is based…

Dr. Fesko says on p. 43 of TLNF that the WCF speaks of “the Mosaic covenant…in terms of the republication of the covenant of works,” but as a matter of fact it doesn’t. The Confession nowhere affirms that. Dr. Fesko says that “space does not permit a full-blown exposition of these points,” but in fact he offers nothing at all in his essay to support his “republication” interpretation of the WCF. When in conversation I mentioned this to him, he appealed to two blogs by Dr. Clark. So let’s look at the arguments of those blogs now…

The Confession says that God gave to Adam a law as a covenant of works, but it never says, or even suggests, that God ever so gave it to any person or nation after the fall…

The meaning of 19:1-2 is so clear that I do not understand why any question concerning that meaning should ever have arisen. To state that meaning I can use no clearer words than the words the divines used: “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works…This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai…”…

that law does not continue as a covenant of works for us, and it was not delivered upon Mount Sinai as a covenant or works for the children of Israel. This is what the Confession teaches. It may not be what some on our faculty would like it to teach. But it is what the Confession teaches.

The fact is, I think Clark is right biblically. God gave Israel the law as a covenant of works. But that is why I hold to the LBCF, which altered the original WCF specifically on this point. The wording of the WCF specifically rules out such a view, just like it specifically rules out theonomy. If I may paraphrase Clark’s quote from the podcast regarding theonomy:

The essence of republication is that God gave the law to Israel as a covenant of works. The great problem with that way of speaking is it’s flatly contrary to the way we speak in the reformed confessions, particularly, for example, in Westminster Confession 19.2, where we say “This law,” that is, the moral law, “after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness” that is, after the covenant was broken, the law still serves as a guide – now watch this “and, as such,” as what? as a perfect rule of righteousness, not as a covenant of works “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.”

So I always say to my republication friends, “What don’t you understand about ‘as such?'”

[…]

It’s sort of a demonstration as to how unmoored we’ve become to the confession, that we have this debate about republication. I mean, in a way, we could have ended, and should have ended the whole debate with republication by saying, “Well, ok, we get that you don’t believe Westminster 19.2. Fine. Go away. You’re not reformed.” But tragically, because republication advocates make a lot of noise, they’re visible. When you leave evangelicalism, it’s sort of one of the toll booths you have to go through to become reformed, is you have to pass through republication.

My point is not to quibble over the label “reformed” nor to argue which confessions are allowed to be included in the label.

So what is my point? Only this: Clark speaks very authoritatively in a black & white manner on a number of issues. Perhaps it would be wise to take what he has to say with a grain of salt.

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