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The Heidelblog’s Monologue of Misrepresentation

June 22, 2017 2 comments

In a hurry? Skip down to the Summary.

I greatly appreciate R. Scott Clark’s zeal for the gospel and his defense of sola fide. However, he has a reputation for not accurately representing the nuances of various theological disagreements and for silencing those he disagrees with. Reformed paedobaptists who disagree with Clark on a variety of different topics have all complained about this. This leads to a fair amount of problems as Clark has become somewhat of a popularizer of reformed theology. People are led to believe things are much simpler than they actually are.

The latest issue to come under his sights is 1689 Federalism. He significantly misrepresented the view in his main point of criticism. I attempted to add a comment of clarification on his blog, but it was not approved. So I wrote a post explaining how Clark has misrepresented 1689 Federalism. Other people began commenting on his blog asking for him to interact with what I had said.

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Both comments were deleted without any response. He eventually responded (sort of) on Twitter.

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I say “sort of” because 1) He refused to say where the quote was from or link to the blog, and 2) He isolated the quote from the rest of the correction and clarification as to what the quote meant. Thus once I corrected him, he chose to ignore me and merely perpetuate his misrepresentation.

He posted the same comment on his blog.

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Again, he quotes me anonymously without linking to or mentioning the source so that people can read it in context for themselves. Furthermore, he isolates one statement that he can continue to twist to fit his straw man, while ignoring the explanation as to what that statement means, in contrast to what he misrepresents it as meaning in his post. So no, it is not a concise statement of the view he rejected in his post. It is a concise statement of the view that he misrepresented in his post. No doubt, he will still reject the view once it is properly represented, but for some strange reason he refuses to allow it to be.

Why?

As one person noted, this has become quite petty. Why has Clark gone to such lengths to hide my response from his followers/readers?

It may simply be a matter of Clark’s professorial preference for monologue leaking over into his blog. I assume he is no fan of the Socratic method. But this is no way for a professor to model scholarship to his students.

It may also be the case that Clark has decided that 1689 Federalism just doesn’t know what it is talking about, so to protect his followers/readers from confusion, he simply will not allow us to dialogue and will delete comments he doesn’t want people to see.

But there may be a bigger reason. Clark is adamant in his post that 1689 Federalism is in no way Reformed. “My job here is to help Reformed folk understand what we confess. Here I’m doing it by way of contrast.” But there are Reformed critics of Clark who are just as adamant that Clark is in no way Reformed in his covenant theology. That’s a point that I discussed in my reply to Clark.

In a 2007 series on Republication, Clark very clearly articulated the subservient covenant view as his own.

[T]he covenant of grace, the Abrahamic covenant is the administration of God’s saving grace. It was and remains a covenant of grace… [T]he Mosaic Covenant is finished… It was a legal covenant not relative to salvation or justification but relative to Israel’s status as the temporary national people of God. In Exod 24, Israel swore a blood oath that she, as a national people, would keep the law and it was on this legal basis that Israel was ultimately expelled from the promised land and on which basis she lost her status as the national people of God… Israel was under a typological, not soteriological covenant of works. It’s a post-lapsarian, typological covenant of works… [T]he type of covenant under which Israel lived as national entity was formally legal, it was a suzerain-vassal treaty. Those same families also lived under a royal grant covenant that was wholly gracious relative to salvation and justification…

God made a temporary, national covenant. That temporary national covenant expired. The spiritual covenant, the covenant of grace, does not expire. The covenant of grace was temporarily administered through and alongside a national covenant… The Mosaic covenant, insofar as it was a distinct covenant, was a national, external, temporary covenant…

Is it not sufficient to say that the covenant of grace, the Abrahamic covenant, was administered through the Mosaic and yet the Mosaic as such, as a distinct epoch in the history of redemption, is also unique in certain aspects (e.g. as a republication of the covenant of works)?…

The Mosaic covenant, insofar as it was a distinct covenant, was a national, external, temporary covenant. At the same time, however, the spiritual, internal, Abrahamic covenant of grace continued and those in the Mosaic covenant who were elect, were also children of Abraham as well as children of Moses.

Re-Publication of the Covenant of Works (1) and Republication of the Covenant of Works (2) and Re-Publication of the Covenant of Works (3)

It’s hard to state the subservient view any clearer than that. The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants are two different, distinct covenants. The Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace through which people are saved (now and during the time of Moses). The Mosaic Covenant is not.

Clark specifically referenced Owen, leading D. Patrick Ramsey to comment “Confessionalists may not want to adopt John Owen on the Mosaic Covenant since he viewed the MC as a distinct covenant and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace.” To which Michael Brown (author of Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored) replied

That may apply to WCF full-subscriptionists, but to the rest of us confessionalists, there is no conflict… What I mean is that I fully subscribe the Three Forms of Unity as a minister in the URCNA and, for the most part, follow Owen’s view of the MC. I don’t see how those two things are in conflict.

I don’t know if particular presbyteries in the OP or PCA would allow a minister to take Owen’s view as an exception. I suspect that many would allow it, if it were qualified and explained. Keep in mind that Owen’s concern is to show that the MC cannot be REDUCED to a mere admin of the CoG. He is concerned to show that, because the MC is a distinct covenant from the Abrahamic, one cannot flatten out the contours of redemptive history in the interest of showing continuity in the Bible.

As I explained in my reply to Clark, presbyterians have been drilling in on this issue, resulting in the recent OPC GA Study Committee on Republication, which states very clearly that Clark’s view is contrary to the WCF.

[P]roponents of the subservient covenant view did not view themselves as advocating a version of View 4 outlined below (i.e., that the Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace with a unique administration)… [View 4] is affirmed by the Westminster Confession of Faith. WCF 7.5–6… The most extensive criticism of the position comes from the works of John Owen and Samuel Bolton… It is difficult to harmonize this [subservient covenant] view with the confessional affirmations (outlined above) regarding the Sinai covenant as being in substance and kind a covenant of grace.

In other words, my reply threw a wrench in Clark’s narrative. Reformed covenant theology is not as black and white as he likes to make it. It is considerably more complex. Recognizing that complexity has at least two effects. 1) It reveals that Clark’s view is contrary to the WCF. 2) It reveals that 1689 Federalism is part of that complex reformed dialogue on covenant theology. As Sam Renihan said in the article Clark was responding to “Where Reformed covenant theology was united, the Particular Baptists were united with them. Where Reformed covenant theology was diverse, the Particular Baptists lived within that diversity.” These are substantial issues that Clark would prefer not to have his readers wrestle with. Far better to keep it hidden from them.

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Clark the Baptist

Returning to Clark’s 2007 series on Republication, he appealed to Charles Hodge to make a very significant point about the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant.

I keep hearing that Meredith Kline invented the doctrine of republication. In a word: nonsense… Richard posted this nice bit from Hodge (who also antedates MGK and WSC):

It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one his natural descendants through Isaac, were constituted a commonwealth, an external community; by the other his spiritual descendants were constituted into a church, [invisible of course, since, at that time, the only formal organization was that of the law.] The parties to the former covenant, were God, and the nation; to the other, God, and his true people. The promises of the national covenant, were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant (i.e. the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, as reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant [the old] were circumcision, and obedience to the law; the conditions of the other were, and ever have been, faith in the Messiah, as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, [that is, the old covenant with the new] and the commonwealth founded on the one, with the church founded on the other. When Christ came, the commonwealth was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The church [now made visible] remained. There was no external covenant, nor promise of external blessings, on condition of external rites, and subjection. There was a spiritual society, with spiritual promises, on condition of faith in Christ.” “The church is, therefore, in its essential nature, a company of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership. (Princeton Review, October, 1853)

Even somewhat sympathetic presbyterians immediately saw the implications. One commeter noted

How these views–of Hodge in particular–don’t surrender the fort to the baptists, I don’t see… Now the question is: how will it be addressed by Kline’s devotes?… I think I would be happy to understand exactly how the baptist gains no ground thereby… It’s confusing trying to answer a baptist who looks at you with a straight face and says, “If YOU only understood covenant theology, you’d realize I’m right. What don’t you understand about the eschatological prologue and intrusion ethics? I don’t have time to explain covenant theology to presbyterian beginners.” These days are already upon us.

In response, Clark doubled-down on the Abrahamic dichotomy.

Hodge is perfectly right to say that God made a temporary, national covenant with Moses. That temporary national covenant, which expired with the death of Christ, was the outworking of the land promises and the promise of a national people made to Abraham… [I]s it not the case that we should distinguish the land/inheritance promise from the spiritual promise (“I will be your God and your children’s God?”). If we can make that distinction then we can connect that aspect of the promise to Abraham to the national covenant in Moses. In other words, Hodge’s language, however incautious, is attempting to account for a real distinction.

Note that Clark typically says baptists err by “turning Abraham into Moses.” Yet here he acknowledges that the national, temporary, typological Old Covenant was rooted in God’s promise to Abraham. See my extended comments here.

Summary

Clark is caught between a rock and a hard place. He understands that properly recognizing the Mosaic Covenant as a typological covenant of works for life in the land of Canaan is essential to defending sola fide. But, as I have shown in a full-length critique of Clark’s covenant theology, his adoption of the subservient covenant view leads directly to 1689 Federalism. He has no defense against it. Perhaps that is why he insists on misrepresenting 1689 Federalism and keeping this blog hidden from his readers.

Further Reading:

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OPC Report on Republication – Background

October 24, 2016 8 comments

The OPC Report on Republication was the culmination of several decades of dispute within the OPC. The dispute is particularly interesting because it represents two divergent schools within Presbyterianism that are both fighting to uphold a particular doctrine at the expense of another particular doctrine. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the Westminster Confession is contradictory in what it says about the Mosaic Covenant. It’s a very detailed argument, so please read that post. In short, it is not possible to affirm both that the Mosaic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace and that there was a Covenant of Works made with Adam.

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John Murray

In the previous post, I suggested that Murray’s rejection of the Covenant of Works was driven by his attempt to resolve this contradiction. Thus he retained the Westminster teaching that the Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace at the expense of the Westminster doctrine of the Covenant of Works.

One of Murray’s students, Meredith G. Kline demurred from Murray early on (listen to the first few episodes of the Glory Cloud Podcast for some timeline on Kline). Kline began to

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Kline at bottom

move in the opposite direction, seeing the Covenant of Works as essential to the law/gospel distinction and therefore rejecting the Westminster doctrine of the Mosaic Covenant as the Covenant of Grace, arguing instead that it was a separate covenant that operated on the works principle for life in the land of Canaan. There was development in Kline’s thought over the decades on this. The OPC Report notes that

At least two controversies helped Kline sharpen his conception of the unique typological function of Abraham and national Israel, and those controversies pertain to the covenant theology of Norman Shepherd, on the one hand, and the theonomic ethics of Greg Bahnsen, on the other… Kline’s development of the typology of both Abraham and Israel depends in significant ways on his response to these controversies, as he seeks to clarify the unique features of redemptive typology pertaining to both Abraham and national Israel…

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Greg Bahnsen

Kline offers an integration of the historia salutis and the ordo salutis, seeking to give a biblically nuanced account of the way in which the obedience of key figures in redemptive history relates to the eschatological inheritance (Adam or Christ) or the typal kingdom (Abraham and national Israel). He adds nuance and clarity to his views based in part on his polemical engagement with the theology of Norman Shepherd and theonomic ethics of Greg Bahnsen, even if those figures are not always identified…

The development from Treaty of the Great King to Kingdom Prologue and God, Heaven and Har-Mageddon turns on clarifying the works principle in Israel as it finds its genesis in Abraham and his unique obedience as a type of Christ. The controversies with Shepherd and Bahnsen supplied polemical contexts for developing the unique features of redemptive typology that extend many of the insights from Vos, but in a way that does not undermine Murray’s insistence on a substantially gracious Mosaic covenant. The development of Abraham as the historical figure who supplies the redemptive historical prototype for the works principle that will come to apply to national Israel develops after the controversies with Shepherd and Bahnsen in the 1970s and 1980s, but in a way that bears organic continuity with his earlier work from the 1960’s.

For an elaboration on Bahnsen in this context, see Theonomy, Greg Bahnsen, and the Federal Vision?

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Norman Shepherd

Who exactly was Norman Shepherd? He too was a student of Murray’s. He was selected by Murray as his successor as professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary. Controversy arose when he students began failing their ordination exams. When asked how we are justified, they answered “through faith and works.” When asked where they were taught that, they said “Professor Shepherd.” Thus began a decade long battle to rid the seminary and the church of Shepherd’s false gospel. Surrounded by politics, Shepherd was eventually dismissed, but not officially for any theological reasons. Charges were scheduled to be brought against him in the OPC, but he fled to the CRC beforehand, where he remains today. I strongly recommend reading O. Palmer Robertson’s careful account of everything that occurred at Westminster regarding Shepherd titled The Current Justification Controversy. Shepherd is considered the godfather of the Federal Vision.

Some want to paint Shepherd as an oddity that came and went but had no lasting impact on Westminster or the OPC. However, it’s not that simple. As I said, Shepherd was selected by Murray as his successor. When Shepherd left, he was succeeded by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Gaffin is three years younger than Shepherd and was a student of Murray’s as well. He taught alongside Shepherd and was his primary defender during the controversy (see Gaffin’s open letter from 1981). In fact, he continued to support Shepherd long after he left, endorsing his 2002 book The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism with these words:

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Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

This lucid and highly readable study provides valuable instruction on what it means to live in covenant with God. God’s covenant is the only way of life that fully honors both the absolute, all-embracing sovereignty of his saving grace and the full, uninhibited activity of his people. The Call of Grace should benefit anyone concerned about biblical growth in Christian life and witness.

Gaffin theoretically distanced himself from Shepherd by participating in the OPC Report on Justification in 2006 which was critical of Shepherd, but no explicit statement and recanting of his support for Shepherd has occurred. The basis of Shepherd’s false gospel of justification through faith and works is his rejection of the “works-merit paradigm” in favor of the “faith-grace” or “covenantal” paradigm. In a 2002 lecture titled “What’s All the Fuss?”, Shepherd explains

Well the preceding is only a sampling of the problems we run into on the works-merit paradigm. We become uncomfortable expressing biblical doctrines using biblical language. Texts get bent out of shape in order to make them fit into a paradigm that does not arise out of Scripture and is foreign to Scripture. And without meaning to do so or wanting to do so we can find ourselves compromising the integrity of what is written in the Word of God.

The biblical paradigm, I would suggest to you, is one that is consistently covenantal without the schizophrenic antithesis between the covenant of works and an antithetical covenant of grace.

The 1982 Reason and Specifications Supporting the Action of the Board of Trustees in Removing Professor Shepherd states

Mr. Shepherd rejects not only the term “covenant of works” but the possibility of any merit or reward attaching to the obedience of Adam in the creation covenant. He holds that faithful obedience is the condition of all covenants in contrast to the distinction made in the Westminster Confession. The Westminster Confession states in Chapter Vll that the first covenant “was a covenant of works wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.” In contrast, in the second covenant, the covenant of grace, the Lord “freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved.”

Shepherd was clearly building upon Murray’s rejection of the Covenant of Works. As we saw in the last post on Murray, he slammed on the breaks when his revisions lead him straight towards a justification by faith and works, particularly in Romans 2:13, but he had no consistent reason for doing so. Murray argued 2:13 (“the doers of the law will be justified”) was hypothetical in direct contradiction to his argument in v6 that the judgment was not hypothetical. Shepherd continued the logically trajectory, further working out the implications of a rejection of the Covenant of Works. 1978 he wrote 34 Theses on Justification in Relation to Faith, Repentance, and Good Works. Note thesis 20

20. The Pauline affirmation in Romans 2:13, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compare Luke 8:21; James 1:22-25).

Many will object that Shepherd’s theology was entirely different than Murray’s. As this is not intended to be a full treatment of the issue, and it is a very detailed topic, I encourage you to look into it yourself and make up your own mind. However, for our present purpose, it is worth recalling what we read from Ligon Duncan in the post on Murray.

Murray held to his objections [to the Covenant of Works] 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.

There is no indication that Gaffin rejected Murray and Shepherd’s rejection of the Covenant of Works and every indication that he agrees with them. A fuller treatment of Gaffin will have to await another day (something I intend to get to, Lord willing). However, I do want to mention an important point regarding continuity with and progression of Murray’s revisionism. We saw before that Murray added Leviticus 18:5 and Matthew 19:17 as proof texts for WCF 19.6. The OPC continued that work.

The Sixty-sixth General Assembly (1999) elected a Committee on Proof Texts for the Larger Catechism (consisting of Stephen A. Pribble [chairman], George W. Knight III, Steven F. Miller, and Peter J. Wallace). It presented a list of proof texts to the Sixty-seventh General Assembly (2000), and the Sixty-eighth General Assembly (2001) approved the proof texts (with corrections) for publication.

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

The list included the addition of Romans 2:6,7,13,16 as proof-texts for WLC90, which states

Q. 90. What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?

A. At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.

Note particularly that v13 was included, which says it is “the doers of the law who will be justified.” Recall that Murray stopped short and claimed this was only hypothetical, not actual – but this contradicted his comments earlier in the passage. The OPC apparently recognized this and carried Murray’s logic through to v13, just as Shepherd did. At the day of judgment, the righteous will be justified because they are doers of the law and not hearers only. (Note that the OPC has since reversed this position and deleted the proof-text. See comment box below).

1416327524kinnairdsAnother Westminster Seminary graduate (same age as Shepherd) was John Kinnaird. Kinnaird very publicly defended Shepherd during the controversy and continued to support him long after. As an elder, he taught that “It is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous on that Day of Judgement.” “Inside the city are those who do righteousness and outside are those who do evil.”

Romans 2 puts it this way.  “God will give to each person according to what he has done.  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil there will be wrath and anger.”   Now by this we know the decision, the judgement as to who enters the city and who stays outside for eternity will be made on that great day of judgement in accordance with what you have done in this life.   In fact our scripture lesson says the very same thing at verse 12.  Behold I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done….

These good works are a required condition if we would stand in the Day of Judgement and they are supplied by God to all His people.

Every description of the Judgement events speak of these good works. Without them, no one will see God.  Our God is not unjust.  His judgements are always righteous and in accordance with the facts of the case

Who are these people who thus benefit ‑ who stand on the Day of Judgement? They are those who obey the law who will be declared righteous…

There will be glory, honor, and peace on the Day of Judgement for everyone who does good. [Romans 2] verse 10. Who are these people who thus benefit – who stand on the Day of Judgement? They are those who obey the law who will be declared righteous, verse 13. When God declares them righteous, that is a forensic declaration of righteousness…. This is a judicial scene, the Day of Judgement. It is an act of God sitting as Judge. It is justification – a forensic act of God whereby he declares a person righteous. God is able to make this declaration on That Day because it is a truth. Something has happened to change those who were once sinful. What is it?… Paul says, verses 14 and 15, these are those who by nature, a new nature, do the things required by the law.

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(Note the verbatim wording of Murray with regards to God’s judgment and the principle of equity).

An elderly couple in Kinnaird’s congregation brought charges against him for teaching justification by faith and works. The congregation (“session”) found him guilty. He appealed to his presbytery, which upheld the guilty verdict. So he appealed to the OPC General Assembly. The General Assembly determined that the session and presbytery had erred in convicting him. A main point in the GA’s decision to overturn the prior verdicts was that Kinnaird’s language was in keeping with the OPC’s standards – specifically WLC 90’s reference to Romans 2:13, which had just been added 2 years earlier. “There is strong evidence that it is allowable in the OPC to interpret Romans 2:13 (as Mr. Kinnaird does) as a description of something that will be done to the righteous at the day of judgment.” (GA Advisory Committee)

I encourage you to read through the trial documents yourself.

During the original trial, Gaffin was called to testify as an expert witness in defense of Kinnaird. I encourage you to read the transcript. Keep in mind Gaffin’s defense did not save Kinnaird in trial. He was still found guilty. One section is particularly pertinent.

RG: We could point up that as to the Romans (I believe Dr. Lillback did this last week if I am correctly informed) that at the …. so far as the Romans 2 passage is concerned, while a large number of Reformed exegetes have understood the scenario there, the final judgment scenario there,  on the positive side, in verse 7 and 10 and 13.  Have understood that in a hypothetical sense – or as we might put it – as a genuine offer of the law – not the gospel – a genuine offer of the law as a means of justification, or salvation which no one, in fact, can fulfill. While that is an established reformed understanding,  there have also been other exegetes, within the reformed tradition, that have questioned that hypothetical understanding.  And you see that at least for verses 6 to 11 very clearly in John Murray’s Romans commentary.  And I would refer us to that discussion,  if none other in that regard…

RG : Murray in his Romans commentary, the passage in Romans 2 that runs, particularly the segment that runs through verse 11.   2:6 to 11.  He understands that to be describing what will actually be the case for believers.  At the day of judgment they will … when God’s righteous judgment will be … when God will give to each person according to his works … that will, in terms of verse 7 … believers will be those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality.  And they will receive eternal life.  That is John Murray’s teaching on that passage.

AW :   John Murray in commenting on Romans 2:13 … I believe probably to 15 … but it’s at least on 2:13.  Here’s a quotation from his commentary. He says

It needs to be noted, however, that at this point the apostle restricts himself to the judgment of condemnation.  And this advises us that he is dealing now with the equity of God’s judgment of damnation as it is brought to bear upon men who fall into these two categories.  This is significant.  Whatever is meant by those who are >without law’ there is no suggestion to the effect that any who are >without law’ attain to the reward of eternal life.

It’s page 69 of  The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans as published by Eerdmans.

So … on the one hand … can you reconcile the two statements by John Murray here?

RG : Yeah,  I think … Sorry.  I didn’t bring my commentary along and … [Mr. Gaffin is given a copy of the commentary from one of the panel members.]   This is from page 71 on 2:13.  Let me read it, what Murray says and then comment.

It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching on 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.

That … I think is to my mind,  what needs to be highlighted here.  My own view would be that following … well, my own view would be … that … I think Murray is leaving it an open question here.  He’s not addressing … he is saying two things.  Number one, no conflict with what Paul teaches later in the letter.  Number two, whether or not there will be anyone at the final judgment justified by works – as Paul expressed there – is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture.  I think really it’s regrettable we don’t have Professor Murray here to ask this question because I think … my own view in the light of what he has said,  and said so clearly about the judgment according to works in two … in verse six … that… it … that would argue for understanding verse 13 here in the same way as describing an actual positive outcomeBut he does, as you are pointing out,  back away from that.  But I can’t … see I think in my own view … it is Professor Murray that is in a bit of a tension here … and the question really needs … I can’t reconcile Murray for you on that regard,  which is the question I heard you asking me.  And I would just accent again that in his understanding of verses 6-11,  he has broken with a large number of Reformed interpreters in arguing that that describes a real judgment scenario with a positive outcome.  Which is also how I would understand verse 13 … and well, you can ask Mr. Kinnaird how he understands it.

AW :  I guess my point would simply would be that John Murray did not definitively use this chapter in Romans 2 to teach … you know, a judgment for … let me say it this way, that John Murray did use his understanding in this to affirm a more traditional – if you want to say –  a traditional or long held view that Romans chapter two was affirming universal condemnation more than any particular manner in which believers are justified.

RG :  Sorry about that, I do have to differ with  Y

AW : O.K., that is fine …

RG :  I think in verses 6 to 11 he does break,  if you will with others, Charles Hodge, Haldane, in arguing that the judgment according to works is not hypothetical on it’s positive side… but will have a positive … it’s describing a positive, a real positive scenario in the case of believers.  And see that I think is really the issue here.  Let’s concede what Murray says about the verse 13 which … this is not … this is not a … this is a point that I am willing to be corrected on, that verse 13 does not describe an actual, an actual scenario at the final judgment.  You still have the final judgment according to works as a reality, according to Murray.

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Meredith G. Kline

So there we see the consequences of Murray’s rejection of the Westminster Confession’s doctrine of the Covenant of Works. Meredith Kline was one of the most vocal critics of Shepherd. In 1994 he penned a very important essay for the OPC magazine New Horizons titled “Covenant Theology Under Attack” in an attempt to defend the doctrine of the Covenant of Works and its corresponding works-merit principle. However, its content was deemed too controversial and was edited for publication. The original essay can be read in full here. Kline said

Recounted in the lore about the founding of our movement is the stirring testimony of the dying Machen in a telegram sent to John Murray: “I’m so thankful for active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”…

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

The door left ajar by Murray was thrown wide open to Fuller’s theology by Murray’s successor… Though the ensuing controversy over Shepherd’s views led to his departure, his teaching was not officially renounced by ecclesiastical or seminary arms of our movement, and key elements of the Fuller-Shepherd theology continue to be advocated among us.

Regretfully, in this same essay, Kline argues that in order to defend the Covenant of Works, the concept of God’s voluntary condescension in rewarding Adam’s obedience (WCF 7.1) must be rejected. So Murray rejected 7.2 and in order to refute Shepherd, Kline rejected 7.1.

But the primary manner in which Kline sought to defend the law/gospel distinction was by recognizing the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works. Contrary to Murray, Leviticus 18:5 was in fact a statement of the principle of works in antithesis to the principle of faith – but it was limited to life and blessing in the land of Canaan, not eternal life. Thus to retain the Covenant of Works, Kline recognized it was necessary to jettison the Mosaic Covenant of Grace (thus rejecting WCF 7.5-6, 19.2).

Kline’s revisionism began to cause a stir. One of Kline’s disciples, Charles Lee Irons was brought to trial for his Klinean view of the Mosaic Covenant, specifically the relationship between the Decalogue and the moral law [Irons helpfully corrected the original wording of this section – see comment section below]. Irons lost the trial and his appeal to the GA was rejected. He chose to withdraw from the OPC and said the following in his letter of withdrawal:

I am not prepared to say that the OPC has fallen into irreparable apostasy, but something is terribly amiss with a denomination that is willing to indefinitely suspend me from the ministry for holding a position that is part of “a significant and vital stream of Reformed, Presbyterian, and confessional thought,” and then turns right around the very next day and fails to censure a man who teaches a doctrine of justification that has never been part of any stream within the orthodox Reformed tradition, indeed, that denies the very reason for the Reformation itself. The implication is staggering:  Murray’s recasting of covenant theology is now an essential test of orthodoxy in the OPC, but the historic Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone is not.

These two rulings of the 70th GA have caused me great sadness, but perhaps they will become a wake-up call to the OPC. I hope and pray that the OPC corrects its course and renews its commitment to the doctrine of justification as clarified by the Law-Gospel contrast taught by Paul and reaffirmed by the Reformers.

Several men began working to demonstrate historical precedent for Kline’s view. In his popular thesis paper “WORKS IN THE MOSAIC COVENANT: A REFORMED TAXONOMY” Brenton C. Ferry explains that he began working on the thesis

during the time of the Lee Irons’ trial in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Lee was proposing and affirming Samuel Bolton’s (1606-1654) view of the Mosaic Covenant, creating the assumption that this was Meredith Kline’s view, which it is not. Worse, Lee was portrayed by men in our denomination as an antinomian, which he is not. The result: he was wrongly deposed. I was a delegate at the General Assembly when Lee lost his appeal. It was most disheartening, but also confirmation that the church needs an accessible outline which reflects the contours of our tradition’s conception of the Mosaic Covenant.

He also recounts his ordination exam.

The research for this thesis began following my ordination exam by the Presbytery of the Southeast in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in October 2000. Towards the end of an otherwise mundane exam, a minister named Patrick Ramsey asked if the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works or a covenant of grace.1 “A covenant of works,” I answered. The room became enlivened. My exam was sustained on condition that I study this issue.

A simplified summary of Ferry’s thesis became a chapter in the Westminster Seminary California-led book “The Law is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant” (2009). The book opens with a 6-page “fictional” narrative of the ordination examination of someone who follows Kline’s view (the intro is written by Westminster Seminary California faculty Bryan Estelle, David VanDrunen, and J.V. Fesko). “The preceding fictional narrative introduces the real issue with which the book deals, namely, the doctrine of republication, which holds that the covenant of works was, in some sense, republished in the Mosaic Covenant at Sinai.” Thus “republication” became code for Kline’s view, even though Kline never used the term, and at the same time introduced considerable confusion by the qualifier “in some sense.” Because it was “in some sense” republished, they could call upon historic support from men who were diametrically opposed to Kline’s view, yet who also affirmed the works principle in the Adamic Covenant of Works in opposition to John Murray. Thus “republication” became the historic idea that Murray rejected, and at the same time the new revision Kline introduced. The book caused more heat than light, largely because of its intentionally vague thesis (“in some sense”).

Many, many more writings have been published that are either directly or tangentially related to this dispute in the OPC over the works principle and the corresponding law/gospel distinction. Just as Ferry and others sought to find historical precedent for Kline’s theology, Mark Jones and others took on the task of finding historical precedent for Gaffin’s theology. The debate has largely centered around Westminster Theological Seminary (representing Murray) and Westminster Seminary California (representing Kline) – or East vs. West as it is referred. The debate often becomes quite heated.

So that is what has led to the OPC Report on Republication. Two leading reformed theologians of the 20th century attempted to retain different aspects of Westminster’s contradictory view of the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Works, leading each theologian to reject other essential aspects of Westminster’s system of theology. In an attempt to save their own confessional skin, Klinians have mistakenly conceded that Murray’s rejection of the Covenant of Works did not affect Westminster’s system of theology.

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…

Recall that the principle of Old School subscription states that a subscriber may take exception to propositions in the Standards. The subscriber may take exceptions to propositions so long as those exceptions do not undermine the overall system. With this in mind, we can see that though Murray reconstructs the Confession’s doctrine of the covenant, his reconstruction still retains the integrity of the overall system…

This is how, then, Murray can still subscribe to the Standards—his conclusions, though through a reconstructed and revised route, do not affect the overall system.

-J.V. Fesko The Legacy of Old School Confession Subscription in the OPC

Opponents of Kline have not made the same mistake. They recognize that his rejection of several points of the Westminster Standards do affect the system of theology. The OPC Report states

One may hold that the Mosaic covenant differs in substance from the covenant of grace, without necessarily compromising the idea of the one way of salvation throughout history. The question our report is addressing is whether one can hold to such positions without compromising the system of doctrine taught in our standards…

in the case of substantial republication, an aggregation of tensions has arisen at times such that, when taken together, they create dissonance that begin to reverberate system-wide

OPC Republication Report – Summary

September 30, 2016 4 comments

Lord willing, I will be writing a series of posts on the OPC Report on Republication. Below is a summary. It was written for those who have not had time to read the full report and would like the gist of it, as well as for those (me) that would like a way to review the essential points of the report. If you desire to discuss the please make sure you have read it. This summary is not a substitute.

Introduction

The WCF speaks to many, but not all the issues raised regarding republication, thus some issues (i.e. typology) remain “extra-confessional” (though others very much are confessional issues).

I. Why the Discussion?

Disagreement over whether or not the covenant of works is in some sense echoed in the Mosaic Covenant.

II. What is “Republication”?

“Republication is the notion that the covenant of works is in some sense echoed in the Mosaic covenant at Sinai… As a term, republication describes how the Mosaic covenant is a renewed proclamation or reenactment of the original covenant of works in Israel’s history. It has also been used to understand patterns and parallels between Adam, Israel and Christ.”

III. What is Typology and Symbol?

“Typology has to do especially with people, places, and events that are set forth in the OT in a shadowy form in order to point forward to a reality to come.”

IV. Need for Terminological Distinctions: What is Merit?

“To subscribe to the WCF is to affirm “the merit” of our Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 17.2). We cannot and should not exclude the language of merit when talking about Christ’s active and passive obedience.”

“Another concept of merit, especially relevant with respect to Adam’s probation, is the notion of ex pacto merit. In other words, it has to do with “the notion that the merit (or demerit) of Adam’s act was determined not by inherent value but by God’s promise of reward (or punishment).” In other words, Adam could merit eternal life because God said so.”

“Both parties can affirm WCF 7.1 wholeheartedly (on the issue of grace or merit before the fall).”

V. What is a Works Principle, Broadly and Narrowly?

“Broadly defined, a works principle is merely communicating obligations with sanctions.”

“We can say with confidence that the law was necessary for introducing a works principle that Christ would fulfill. Since Christ was the second Adam, the Mosaic law was an administration that reemphasizes a works principle for him to perform.”

Narrowly defined “Some theologians with sympathies for republication speak of a works principle in a more specific sense, with reference to external blessings… especially Israel’s tenure in the land, or their exile from the Promised Land (cf. Deut 28, Lev 26).”

Part I – The Westminster Standards and Covenant Theology

Ch. 1 Substance and Administration

A. Substance

“The confessional standards assume that the covenant of grace is one and the same substance no matter where it is found in redemptive history… (WCF 7.6)… What is that substance? According to our doctrinal standards the substance of the covenant of grace is Christ… In short, there are not two ways of salvation…”

“However, it is also true that some Reformed theologians have seen the idea of substance in a more technical way; namely, the core condition that governs the covenant. Thus, when the condition is essentially the same, the covenant is also essentially the same; and when the condition differs, so does the essence of the covenant.”

B. Administration

“The different administrations of the covenant of grace share in the unity of substance, yet this is balanced by the ways in which those administrations are distinguished. The standards do not understate these differences (WCF 7.5; LC 33).”

Ch. 2 Typology and Confessional Interpretation

I. Typology

“[R]epublication paradigms typically (!) encourage a particular typological understanding of corporate Israel, temporal blessings and curses, and obedience to the moral law pointing to Christ and his active obedience… Our standards neither affirm nor reject a typological approach to the moral law in the Mosaic economy or to persons in the Old Testament text. Of possible relevance by way of contrast, the confession does explicitly ascribe a typological function to the ceremonial laws, and relates them to the covenant of grace (WCF 19.3).”

II. Varieties of Views

III. Confessional Interpretation

“It is a worthwhile endeavor to attempt “to use these biblical texts to understand confessional phrases” in any study.”

We must carefully understand the concepts of assembly members, rather than just appealing to phrases or language.

Ch. 3 Law and Covenant

I. Creation and Covenant

“[T]he law of God was implanted in us at creation, and yet we cannot flourish without covenant, and so God brought our first parents into a covenantal relationship with himself through a “special act of providence” (SC 12). This means, among other things, that creation does not seem to be synonymous with covenant.”

II. Law and Covenant

Therefore “Natural law does not seem to be synonymous with the covenant of works.”

“[L]aw itself, it would seem, does not include threats and promises for sin and success in the same manner as does covenant (WCF 19.1, and especially 19.6). Nonetheless, in descriptions of the law in LC 93, the catechism notes that there are threats and promises contained within the law. The law has covenantal features, and is presented in a covenantal context. Perhaps the catechetical text intends for us to see that that there are ways in which law does promise a general pattern of blessing for obedience, and harm for disobedience; or it may see threats and promises as features of every covenant administration, and not merely that of the covenant of works.”

III. Historical Exegesis

“[W]hat did the assembly’s members and commissioners intend by citing these passages in support of their statements in WCF 7.2, set forth here?

The first covenant made with man, was a covenant of works [Gal 3:12], wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity [Rom 10:5; Rom 5:12–20], upon condition of perfect and personal obedience [Gen 2:17; Gal 3:10].”

“[W]e must determine if the citation of these texts in this place was intended to communicate or permit [1] a works principle not only as part of the prelapsarian covenant, or [2] as a continuing rule for unbelievers living under the covenant of works, but also in some sense [3] as a unique (perhaps typological) aspect of the nature of the Mosaic economy for Old Testament believers.”

“[W]e must test the assumption that an assembly member quoting Lev 18:5 or Deut 27:26 (texts of the Mosaic economy) and applying it to the prelapsarian covenant of works is also, inevitably, saying something about the Mosaic economy in particular. If we are to build a case that does not leak, we must demonstrate that these passages are understood to pertain to believers in the biblical nation of Israel.”

“With respect to covenant in particular (and not merely to the moral law) the usual trend in the interpretation of these texts can be summarized as follows:

Galatians 3:12 (quoting Leviticus 18:5)… simply as witness to the existence of a prelapsarian covenant of works with an emphasis on obedience…

Romans 10:5 (quoting Leviticus 18:5)… (1) to accentuate the need for obedience in a prelapsarian covenant of works, a covenant which endures in the postlapsarian period for all unbelievers, or (2) to emphasize the promise of life in the covenant of works in the prelapsarian covenant of works only, or (3) a promise of life extended hypothetically for all people in all time, or (2) and (3).”

“The paucity of support for a works-principle reading of these passages thus far is surprising to your committee, and striking, leading to the conclusion that however close assembly members might come to expressing some kind of substantial republication of a works principle in the Mosaic economy, there seems to be no clear association of that principle with these texts among members of the assembly. Indeed, it appears that at most divines understood these texts, when discussed in relation to the covenant of works, in just the way they have been presented above. They do not employ these texts to argue for a typological and thus pedagogical works principle unique to the Mosaic economy, but as an expression of the abiding conditions of the prelapsarian covenant of works to which all unbelievers are subject, including a threat of death for the disobedient, and perhaps an unattainable promise of life for the obedient. In other words, assembly members do not write as though these texts suggest a works-principle for old covenant believers, or a principle of inheritance for national Israel that is distinct from the principle of inheritance that operates in the covenant of grace, or as if these texts supported the attainment of temporal blessings, or the avoidance of temporal curses, by means of works rather than faith.”

IV. Strands and Systems

“[T]hroughout the standards every postlapsarian covenant is fundamentally characterized as an aspect or administration of one covenant of grace, a covenant with an unchanging substance, even if the manner of that administration varies (WCF 7.3; LC 33).”

“No such [works] principle is ever granted any typological importance in our confessional standards. Nor is the Mosaic economy bracketed off in the confession, or even offered a unique place within the Old Testament—indeed, the whole Old Testament is simply characterized as “the time of the law” (WCF 7.5).”

Ch. 4 Merit and the Mediator

I. Merit and Demerit

“In terms of classical theology and philosophy, is the relationship between works and rewards real or nominal (the latter being a position sometimes called “simple justice”, “ex pacto merit”, or “covenantal justice”)?” “it appears from our standards that a properly meritorious work must be free, perfect, personal, profitable, and proportional.”

Free: “If one must perform a work as a matter of debt, he or she can hardly request a reward for that work when completed… (WCF 7.1, 2.2)… But Jesus Christ, by way of contrast, is no mere creature and he owed no obedience to the creator… (WCF 8.4)… His work was meritorious because it was free.”

Perfect: “There must be nothing lacking in the performance of the work that would make it unworthy of reward… The whole of WCF 6 precludes the possibility of making a beneficial covenant of works (in substance) with fallen man… [Christ] can offer “perfect obedience” in our place (WCF 8.5). His work was meritorious because it was perfect.”

Personal: “If we are to claim a work as our own, we must not be borrowing the efforts of others… His work was meritorious because it was personal.”

Profitable: “it has purchasing power… Luke 17:10… Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the other hand, found all of his work profitable. He could “procure” the Lord’s favor and “purchase a peculiar people” (LC 38). As mediator he “purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of Heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him” (LC 8.5).”

Proportional: “A day’s pay for an hour’s work is a matter of grace not works… The eschatological advancement offered in the Scriptures is way out of proportion to even our best works, even if they were offered freely, perfectly, and personally… Even pre-fall merit is thus excluded, in any proportional sense, because of the ontological difference between the Creator and the creature… there was no possibility of Adam or his descendants accelerating an eschatological or glorified state by means of any real merit of his own; he could only do so through a covenantal arrangement, where God, in his benevolent freedom, would reward his obedience with a gift beyond that which he had earned… some argue that there is merit in a covenantal (ex pacto) sense for prelapsarian Adam, an arrangement of works and reward which God determines that can legitimately be described in terms of merit… The Reformed orthodox uniformly deny [postlapsarian] ex pacto human merit for eschatological blessings… WCF 8.3 emphasizes that the divine person of the mediator (an ontological matter) and the indwelling of the Spirit (an economic reality) are necessary for the removal of demerit. Similarly, WCF 8.4, 8.5 and LC 38 emphasize that the divine person of Christ is necessary for the provision of merit… His work was meritorious because it was proportional. And this brings us back to where this discussion of merit began: with an insistence on real, rather than nominal categories in defining biblical conceptions of merit as articulated in our confession. This is why the confession speaks of Christ, by his obedience and death, fully discharging debt and making “proper, real, and full satisfaction to His Father’s justice” (WCF 11.3).”

II. Typology of Merit

How can a postlapsarian imperfect works principle be analogous to or typological of Adam or Christ? How can it lead men to Christ if it is on terms they can fulfill imperfectly?

III. Other Observations

The Westminster standards “stress a core commonality in the manner of God’s dealing with people both covenant administrations of the covenant of grace… in our confessional standards the Mosaic economy is not given any particularly unique place.”

IV. Preliminary Conclusions

  1. “it is basic to our confession’s presentation of covenant theology to distinguish between the substance and administration [accidents] of the covenant of grace”
  2. “the confession allows for an administrative republication of the covenant of works”
  3. “standards are very modest…with their use of typology”
  4. “Biblical and theological cases for substantial republication of some kind are stronger than the confessional case for substantial republication”
  5. The WCF does not explicitly reject every position that is inconsistent with it.
  6. The WCF “does not explicitly teach the doctrine, nor is it obvious that its system of doctrine welcomes such a principle in the Mosaic economy.”
  7. “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.”

Part II – Views of Republication

Ch. 5 Taxonomy of Views

“The mandate from the General Assembly asks our study committee to determine “whether and in what particular senses” the covenant of works was republished in the Mosaic covenant and to relate our findings to our doctrinal standards.”

“The key question turns on whether there is a substantial difference between the Mosaic covenant and the covenant of grace… The idea of the “substance” of the covenant involves its core content… Throughout this taxonomy the term “substance” refers to the nature of the essential condition of covenant. Conversely, the term “administration” when applied to the covenant of grace refers to the outward means by and in which the grace of Christ is communicated to the elect.”

I. Toward a Taxonomy

“[T]here are basically only two forms of republication: substantial republication and administrative republication. Substantial republication occurs when God is said to institute at Sinai a covenant that is essentially characterized as a covenant of works (as in the Garden of Eden) in terms of its principle or constitutive condition. Administrative republication occurs when the covenant of works is declared, materially presented, or redemptively reenacted in the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace.”

A “fourfold taxonomy of the substance of the Mosaic covenant is as follows:

  • View 1: The Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of works, promising eternal life and/or salvation upon condition of perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience.
  • View 2: The Mosaic covenant is in substance a mixed covenant, containing elements of both a covenant of works and a covenant of grace.
  • View 3: The Mosaic covenant in substance is a subservient covenant, promising temporal life in Canaan upon condition of perfect obedience to the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws.
  • View 4: The Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace, although uniquely administered in a manner appropriate to the situation of God’s people at that time.

“Views 1–3 fall into the designation of substantial, since they place the republication of the Adamic covenant works in the substance of the Mosaic covenant in some fashion (e.g., in terms of its principle or constitutive condition). Whereas, View 4 is seen as administrative, since advocates of this position remove any “works” element from the substance of the covenant, and restrict it to an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace.”

  1. The first view states that the substance of the Adamic covenant is republished to Israel pure and simple. God makes a covenant with Israel requiring perfect, personal obedience and promises eternal life upon condition of such obedience.
  2. The second view states that the substance of the covenant is in part a republication of the Adamic covenant of works pure and simple.
  3. The third views states that the substance of the covenant is a republication of the Adamic covenant of works, although adjusted to temporal blessings in Canaan.
  4. The fourth view argues that the substance of the Sinaitic covenant is in substance not a republication of the Adamic covenant of works, but instead an administration of the unfolding covenant of grace. Any republication or restatement of the covenant of works appears solely on the administrative level, and in a way that is consistent with its fundamentally gracious substance.

“with regard to the two interpretations of Kline’s view in this report, the first reading of Kline sees… him as advocating substantial republication… The second reading of Kline understands him to advocate an… administrative republication.”

II. Outlining the Four Traditional Views

  • View 1: The Mosaic Covenant as a Covenant of Works Pure and Simple

“this view sees the covenant made at Sinai as being in substance a covenant of works, and thus not in substance a covenant of grace. The relationship of the Mosaic and new covenants is such that they differ not simply in degree, or merely in administration, but in substance and in kind. Likewise, it is important to note that this view did not deny the presence of redemptive grace during the Mosaic era. Instead, it denied the location of grace within the substance of the Mosaic covenant.” Anthony Burgess identifies this as a Lutheran view in opposition to the Calvinist view. Francis Roberts identifies the Reformed authors of the Leiden Synopsis as holding this view. Historic criticism was that this view seizes on Scripture’s antithesis between the Old and New Covenants (2 Cor 3:6-7, Gal 4:23-24, etc) and overlook descriptions of Old as gracious.

  • View 2: The Mosaic Covenant as a Mixed Covenant

“the mixed covenant position distinguishes between two “givings” of the law at Mt. Sinai, and conversely between two distinct covenants given through Moses… First, the moral law alone was presented to Israel, which is said to contain in substance a perfect covenant of works… The law was then issued a second time, but with moderation, promising pardon to the penitent, and thus in substance offering a covenant of grace… If the strength of the mixed view is that it tries to account for both legal and gracious aspects of the Mosaic covenant, the basic criticism of this position is that it lacks exegetical and theological coherence… ‘God doth not at once, with the same people enter covenant upon so opposite termes… Rom 11:6”

  • View 3: The Mosaic Covenant as a Third “Subservient Covenant”

“This view maintained that there were three kinds of “special” or “hypothetical” covenants made between God and man: (1) a covenant of works with Adam, (2) a subservient covenant made with Israel, (3) and a covenant of grace with both old and new administrations…

Condition:
1.    Covenant of works: perfect obedience to the moral law
2.    Subservient covenant: perfect obedience to moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws
3.    Covenant of grace: faith in the Redeemer, Jesus Christ

Promise:
1.    Covenant of works: earthly life in the Garden of Eden
2.    Subservient covenant: blessed life in Canaan
3.    Covenant of grace: eternal life in Heaven

“proponents of the subservient covenant view did not view themselves as advocating a version of View 4 outlined below (i.e., that the Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace with a unique administration)… a core theological objection to this view is that it is indistinct. In other words, although it claims that the “subservient covenant” is distinct in kind from the covenants of works and grace, its essential component does not adequately differ from the covenant of works to constitute it a third kind of covenant.”

  • View 4: The Mosaic Covenant as a Covenant of Grace, Uniquely Administered to Israel

“This view teaches that the Mosaic covenant is substantially a covenant of grace, although uniquely administered in a way appropriate for God’s people of that time… This view is affirmed by the Westminster Confession of Faith. WCF 7.5–6… The most extensive criticism of the position comes from the works of John Owen and Samuel Bolton.” Lutheran Martin Chemnitz objected “Shall I follow Calvin when he says there is actually only one covenant? Or shall I follow Scripture which testifies that the new covenant is better than the old?” “pervasive criticism of view four is its perceived failure to account for passages of Scripture that highlighted strong contrasts between the old and new covenants.”

III. Distinctions for Describing the Role of the Law on the Administrative Level [View 4]

  1. “The law considered broadly [“the whole economy or dispensation of the Mosaic covenant inclusive of both the moral and ceremonial laws”], strictly [“simply the Decalogue given at Mt. Sinai with the preface, promises, and threatenings added to it.”], and most strictly [“meer preceptive part of the Law… may be called a legal covenant of works”].
  2. “[T]he matter [referring to the commands of the Covenant of Works] and form [referring to the means of obtaining righteousness] of the moral law.” Thus “what has been called ‘material’ republication and ‘formal’ republication.”
  3. “the law as a covenant of works versus the law as a rule of life… WCF 19.1-2 distinguishes the law given to Adam as a covenant of works, and the law given to Israel as a rule of life. Further, the distinction appears again in 19.6, where it asserts that true believers ‘be not under the law as a covenant of works’… Since the law as a rule of life is distinct from the law as a covenant of works, it seems best not to classify the former as a version of “republication”—of either the substantial or administrative variety. ”
  4. “the “making” of the covenant of works with Israel and the mere “declaration” of that covenant… The covenant of works was not demanded of the sinner (or “made” with him), but as a declared reminder of its terms and previous violation. The actual relationship between God and Israel was essentially gracious, although the manner in which it was dispensed contained a declaration of the covenant of works… This declaration is a form of “administrative” or “accidental” republication because the declared covenant of works does not actually govern the terms of Israel’s actual relationship to God, nor does it apply to the way believing Israel will receive and retain the promised blessings of the covenant.”
  5. “the intent of God in giving the law versus the [perverted] intent of Israel in using the law… The idea of considering the law as it has been abused or perverted by the Judaizers has also been called the “misinterpretation principle.” This is a form of “accidental” republication, because the law’s function as a covenant of works is not present in the covenant by God’s intention and design, but only in the Jewish perversion and misinterpretation of the law.”
  6. “the Mosaic covenant itself and the law abstracted from the covenant…

IV. Summary and Analysis

Two options for republication: substantial or administrative/accidental. Within the latter, 6 different distinctions are utilized. “This can take the form of “declarative republication” (where the covenant of works is declared, but not made with Israel), “material republication” (where the moral law or “matter” of the covenant of works is restated), or an “accidental” misinterpretive republication (where the Jews pervert the law and turn it into a covenant of works for themselves).”

V. Provisional Points for Assessing Views of Republication

Does the position sufficiently account for the fundamentally gracious essence of the Mosaic covenant?
Does the position coherently relate the ideas of “works” and “grace” in the Mosaic covenant?
Does the position preserve the distinctive character of the covenant of works in describing its presence in the Mosaic covenant?
Does the position restrict all “covenant of works” aspects of the Mosaic covenant to the administrative level?
Does the position consistently relate any “administrative republication” of the covenant of works to the fundamentally gracious essence of that covenant?

Ch. 6 Strengths and Weaknesses of the Various Views

“our assessment of the varieties of republication will focus on the question of systematic consistency with our confession of faith and catechisms.”

I. Covenant of Works “Pure and Simple”

“Our standards speak of the Mosaic covenant being the same in substance with the new covenant, and thus as being in substance a covenant of grace. By contrast, this view speaks of the Mosaic covenant as in substance a covenant of works, and thus not a covenant of grace. The standards regularly affirm that the various Old Testament covenants between God and man after the fall are “one and the same” covenant of grace “under various dispensations” (WCF 7.5–6). This is a blanket hermeneutical axiom for interpreting every covenant in this Old Testament era. This affirmation not only excludes Tobias Crisp’s idiosyncratic view that there are “two covenants of grace, differing in substance,” but also lays down a positive boundary marker for any other view: it must be “one and the same” covenant of grace… To affirm that the Sinai covenant itself was a covenant of works is to affirm the opposite of what is affirmed in our standards… a theological weakness emerges when we consider the idea of the unrepeatability of the covenant of works… God cannot actually renew this covenant with man such that he relates to him upon its essential terms, distributing rewards or punishments according to the fulfillment or breaking of its condition…” God is also said to be merciful and forgiving to Israel (Ex 34:6-7). Also “it is not immediately apparent how the sacraments of the covenant of grace can signify and seal a covenant that is substantially a covenant of works.”

II. Mixed Covenant

“Insofar as the mixed covenant view affirms that the covenant of works is part of the substance of the Mosaic covenant, it is weighed down by many of the same weaknesses we have noted with regard to view 1 (outlined above). Most other weaknesses of the position flow out of the fundamental concern over its internal coherence.”

III. Subservient Covenant

“Instead of perfect obedience to the moral law, the subservient Mosaic covenant is said to additionally include stipulations regarding the ceremonial and judicial law. Instead of eternal life (or even a blessed life in Eden), the subservient covenant promises only temporal life in Canaan… these modifications are not sufficient to constitute a third kind of covenant distinct from both the covenants of works and grace. If the substance of the covenant is closely related to its basic stipulation and requirement, it is difficult to see how two covenants that both require perfect obedience can be said to be different in kind. The mere addition of ceremonial and judicial stipulations do not appear to be sufficient to change the essential nature of the covenant… their proposed solution is unsatisfactory in that the subservient covenant remains virtually indistinguishable from view 1 in its constituent, characteristic features (in particular, the condition of perfect obedience to the moral law)… it is difficult to harmonize this view with the confessional affirmations (outlined above) regarding the Sinai covenant as being in substance and kind a covenant of grace.”

IV. The Mosaic Covenant as in Substance a Covenant of Grace

“The fourth view maintains that the Sinaitic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace. As noted above, this is the position affirmed in our standards… how can that be a covenant a grace which the Scriptures refer to… as an “administration of death” (2 Cor 4), that is “not of faith” (Gal 3:12), that articulates the “righteousness of the law” over against the “righteousness of faith” (Rom 10), and a covenant that is a “new covenant” that is “not like” the “old covenant” (Heb 8:6–13; Jer 31:31–34)? This view’s consistent answer to such questions is that the differences between the Sinai covenant do not lie in the substance of the covenant, but in the administration (or “accidents” of the covenant)… An appeal to the substance-administration distinction should not be used as a dogmatic “short-cut” to bypassing the text of Scripture.”

Ch. 7 M.G. Kline as Advocate of a Version of Substantial Republication

(1) His description of the nature of the Sinai covenant itself.

(2) The way he contrasts the Sinaitic covenant from the Abrahamic and new covenants.

(3) The role he assigns to ratificatory oaths in promise covenants and law covenants.

(4) The meritorious character he ascribes to the conditionality of the Sinai covenant.

“the “old Mosaic order” as a whole is an administration of the covenant of grace. Nonetheless, he speaks of the Sinaitic covenant itself as a “specific legal whole,” identifying it as making the inheritance “to be by law, not by promise—not by faith but by works.”… Kline does view the Sinaitic covenant as a separate covenant, distinct in nature from the covenant of grace… Relative to their probationary experience as a theocratic nation in the land, Israel was under a covenant of works opposite in nature to a covenant of grace… God superimposes over the Abrahamic covenant “a works arrangement, the Torah covenant with its ‘do this and live’ principle (cf. Lev. 18:5), the opposite of the grace-faith principle (Galatians 3 and 4; Rom. 10:5, 6).”… “The old covenant was law, the opposite of grace-faith… It is difficult to consider how Kline could have stated the difference between the two covenants more strongly… on this interpretation of Kline, the “merit” of Adam, of Christ, and of Israel are systemically coordinated as subsets of the same category… Kline maintains that the Mosaic economy contains a distinct covenant that is itself a covenant of works in contrast to the covenant of grace. It is for that reason that Kline’s teaching on the Mosaic covenant and the covenant of works can be categorized as a form of substantial republication.”

Ch. 8 M.G. Kline as Advocate of a Version of Administrative Republication

“while the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are essentially distinct administrations of the one covenant of grace, both have a typological feature that enshrines a works principle within them… Abraham’s imperfect, Spirit-wrought obedience is tethered to the acquisition of the typal inheritance… When Israel failed to demonstrate the faithfulness of Abraham, Israel, as the typal son of God (Exod 4:23) forfeited the land-inheritance that was granted to obedient Abraham… Thus, the works principle that originally tethered eschatological inheritance to sinless obedience is redemptive historically recalibrated through Abraham. [Kline’s] notion of the works principle after the fall cannot be captured adequately by the language of substantial republication.”

I. Protological and Typological Intrusions: Eden and Canaan

“The projection or intrusion of the holiness of the future theocratic kingdom in protological form (Eden) and typological (Canaan) form supplies a central structure in Kline’s conception of covenant theology… The obedience of Adam is tethered to at least two features of Eden. First, his ongoing obedience is necessary to protect the realm of Eden from defilement. Second, his ongoing obedience, when put to the test, is the ordained means of advancing beyond probation in Eden to Sabbath Rest…  in addition to the intrusion of the holiness of the age to come in the prelapsarian, protological kingdom, there is a second, typological intrusion of the holiness of the eschatological kingdom within the theocracy of Israel, and this second intrusion is redemptive in character… The protological intrusion in Eden is not redemptive in substance, whereas the typological intrusion in Canaan is redemptive in substance.”

II. Protology, Typology and the Works Principle

“[Kline:] ‘in the Mosaic economy there was a reproduction of the creational order as a whole (within the limitations of the fallen situation and with the adjustments resulting from the redemptive process)… Flawless obedience was the condition of Adam’s continuance in the Garden; but Israel’s tenure in Canaan was contingent on the maintenance of a measure of religious loyalty which needed not to be comprehensive of all Israel nor to be perfect even in those who were the true Israel. There was a freedom in God’s exercise or restraint of judgment, a freedom originating in the underlying principle of sovereign grace in his rule over Israel. Nevertheless, God did so dispense his judgment that the interests of the typical-symbolical message of Israel’s history were preserved.’”

“The fundamental difference, then, between Adam’s tenure in Eden and Israel’s tenure in Canaan turns on the distinction between “flawless” obedience of a sinless man and “a measure of religious loyalty” expressed by a redeemed, covenant people… To put Kline’s point in language from the Westminster Confession of Faith (9:2,4) Adam’s obedience as a sinless federal head operates in an estate of innocency; Israel’s obedience as a redeemed people operates in an estate of grace. This distinction explains in unambiguous terms the limitations and adjustments introduced in light of sin and the redemptive process.”

“Israel is not judged instantly for sin due to the presence of underlying, redemptive grace, sovereignly administered in terms of the covenant of grace. It is this underlying principle that explains the discontinuity between the instant judgment enacted against Adam for his sin versus the protracted legal process enacted against Israel for countless sins over hundreds of years.”

“although graciously redeemed and given an inheritance in Canaan, Israel spurned the typical indicative—the gracious provisions of God under the covenant of grace—and engaged in long-term apostasy and faithless rebellion and disobedience against God. Hence, God judged Israel in a manner consistent with the dual sanctions of sacramental-sign function of circumcision—the faithless are cut off.”

“It is this typological function of national Israel’s obedience relative to land retention or land loss that Kline terms the works principle… Lev. 18:5”

“It is not a correlation between pre-fall Adam in Genesis 2 and the demand for flawless obedience relative to eschatological inheritance that comes into view when Kline makes the comparison between Israel and Adam. Rather, it is the correlation between post-fall Adam in Genesis 3 and the consequence of his sin leading to exile east of Eden that comes into view when Kline makes the comparison between Israel and Adam. Rather than thinking in terms of a republication of the covenant of works with pre-fall Adam, Kline brings into view a redemptively qualified recapitulation of post-fall Adam and the loss of inheritance. That is the point to grasp when it comes to the correlation of Israel and Adam in light of the works principle.”

III. Typological “Merit” in Relation to the Works Principle: Abraham’s Obedience as Redemptive-Historical Prototype for National Israel’s Obedience

“Kline pinpoints a specific issue with which the Reformed exegete must wrestle: “How Abraham’s obedience related to the securing of the kingdom blessings in their old covenant form is a special question within the broad topic of the role of human works under redemptive covenant.” Kline’s point is that just as God would have rewarded Adam in terms of an ex pacto principle of merit, situated within the broader context of a non-redemptive, gracious condescension (see above), so likewise something similar obtains in the case of Abraham as a typical head of a new redeemed humanity… Kline distinguishes the Spirit-wrought obedience of faith performed by Abraham (common within the ordo salutis) from the unique typological character of that same obedience (unique to the historia salutis).”

Kline: “God was pleased to constitute Abraham’s exemplary works as the meritorious ground for granting to Israel after the flesh the distinctive role of being formed as the typological kingdom, the matrix from which Christ should come.”

“Abraham’s obedience and the notion of “merit” in view can be at best only analogical to the true merit of Christ… The sign, Abraham’s obedience, and the thing signified, Christ’s obedience, cannot be conflated or confused. Abraham’s obedience at every point remains the obedience of one redeemed under the covenant of grace… Abraham’s obedience is wrought by the Spirit of Christ (WCF 16.2), and, while remaining at every point imperfect (WCF 16.5), is accepted on the basis of his faith-union with the promised Messiah (WCF 16.6). Yet, at the same time, Abraham’s obedience foresignifies Christ’s active obedience (WCF 7.5) and is from that perspective a “type” that “signified” the coming Messiah (8.6)… That God accepted Abraham’s “obedience of faith” must depend on Abraham’s union with the promised Messiah by faith. This is the point taken from WCF 16.”

“Abraham’s obedience is typological precisely to the degree it (a) provides an imperfect “ground” for a kingdom people and (b) pertains to the typical realm the kingdom people will populate… Abraham’s obedience also supplies the prototype for the character of Israel’s meritorious obedience under a works principle… Israel’s national obedience under the Mosaic covenant is an organic extension of the nature of Abraham’s obedience under the covenant of grace. Therefore, Abraham’s obedience is not different in kind from the obedience of Israel as a nation… The obedience of Israel, like Abraham, exhibits a righteousness that is a “gift of grace from the God of her salvation.”… To the extent that national Israel lacks fidelity to the Lord and engages in long-term apostasy, the typological son reenacts in key ways the sin and exile of Adam and undergoes exile from the holy realm of Canaan.”

“it appears that Kline is using two distinct conceptions of merit—ex pacto merit and typological merit, respectively. The former denotes flawless obedience offered by a sinless federal head that is bound to the acquisition and permanent maintenance of the eschatological kingdom. The latter denotes imperfect obedience offered by sinners (by grace through faith in the promised Messiah) tethered to the acquisition and maintenance of the typological kingdom.”

“While it is understandable that some would express concern with the felicity of Kline’s use of typological merit language as applied to sinners, it appears that there is nothing in the concept of typological merit itself that runs counter to the Westminster standards.”

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

“Kline believes that apostasy is possible under the covenant of grace… the new covenant, like the old covenant expression of the covenant of grace, has dual sanctions of blessing and curse… 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)… In both instances, there is a threatened sanction—a judgment according to sinful works—that is expressed… 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.”

V. The Old and New Covenant Orders and “Breakability”

“[T]he old covenant order as a whole at the national, typological level is breakable in the sense that the nation Israel is exiled for apostasy and disobedience. While the new covenant order as a whole is not breakable at the level of the historia salutis, it is breakable by the individual at the level of the ordo salutis.”

VI. Objections Considered

A. Oath Swearing Relative to National Israel in the Mosaic Covenant

“It is through Abraham that a “works principle” that exhibits “merit” supplies the historical category that redemptively recalibrates the works principle that would pass into the Israelite theocracy. The works principle after the fall tethers Spirit-wrought obedience to the typal kingdom, whether acquisition (Abraham) or maintenance (Israel) is in view… Kline’s point is that it is not the suretyship of Christ that perpetually secures the maintenance of the typal kingdom; it is Israel’s obedience, national fidelity, or religious loyalty that performs such a function… It is this carefully qualified and nuanced situation that Kline deems the works principle, and it is this principle that comes into view relative to Israel’s oath swearing… The typal kingdom order did not endure forever, because its permanent maintenance was not rooted in the suretyship of Christ but the obedience of national Israel. This is perhaps the core insight of Kline’s theology of the works principle.”

B. Kline’s Confusing Use of Merit Terminology

Kline’s “infelicitous use of merit language… is novel and muddies the waters when it comes to explaining the nature of Abraham’s and Israel’s obedience.”
The Mosaic covenant requires imperfect obedience and does not bring immediate judgment. Therefore “what Kline understands by ‘typological merit’ must differ in kind from what he means by merit as it pertains to sinless federal heads.”
“Kline is not applying his notion of typological merit to the ordo salutis but to the historia salutis.” Thus he is not using “merit” according to its historical meaning. “Thus, Kline’s concept of ‘typological merit’ is a tertium quid that must be substantially distinguished from proper and ex pacto merit.”

Summary and Conclusion

“Kline does not advocate a ‘merit principle’ that competes with the presence of redemptive grace… Rather, he advocates a works principle adjusted to the realities of sin and redemption… The failure of Israel to render such fidelity results in a loss of the typal kingdom. The national apostasy of Israel can be correlated to individual apostasy in the church through the meaning and function of the sacraments of circumcision and baptism.”
“While other interpretations of Kline would suggest he endorses substantial republication of the covenant of works with Adam, the line of argumentation developed in this chapter, particularly the integral role played by Abraham as the redemptive-historical frame of reference for the nature of corporate Israel’s obedience, suggests otherwise.”

Addendum: John Murray and Geerhardus Vos on the Mosaic Covenant

Murray

Murray: ”At the outset we must remember that the idea of conditional fulfillment is not something peculiar to the Mosaic covenant… [it] does not itself provide us with any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic.”

“Murray’s basic concern is to avoid the ‘grave error’ that the Mosaic Covenant is a covenant of works in the sense that it is ‘totally different’ from the Abrahamic covenant… Murray’s predominant concern is the unity of the ordo salutis in both Abrahamic and Mosaic administrations of the covenant of grace. Commensurate with that emphasis, he gives very little attention to the unique typological features… What Murray does not develop in his comments on the covenant of grace, particularly in its Mosaic administration, is the notion of redemptive intrusion within Cannan as a typical paradise-land.”

“[I]f we follow the interpretation of Kline as an advocate of administrative republication, then we could affirm a baseline unity between Murray and Kline with regard to the substance of the Mosaic covenant.”

Vos

“Kline’s notion of Canaan as an intrusion of the holiness of the age to come, as well as Kline’s notion of Israel’s obedience as “appropriateness of expression” appear in Vos’ work… Kline echoes Vos’ formulation in both Treaty and Kingdom Prologue, where he speaks of a “principle of sovereign grace” regulating the relationship between Yahweh and national Israel… Vos also correlates a continuity between apostasy at the individual level in the ordo salutis and what happens uniquely with Israel in the exile at the level of the historia salutis… There is thus an analogy to be drawn between the apostasy of the individual under the covenant of grace and national Israel under the covenant of grace…”

“Kline extends beyond Vos specifically in his appreciation of redemptive typology in relation to Abraham, which, in turn, helps him develop the theology of the works principle with both Abraham and national Israel. The development from Treaty of the Great King to Kingdom Prologue and God, Heaven and Har-Mageddon turns on clarifying the works principle in Israel as it finds its genesis in Abraham and his unique obedience as a type of Christ. The controversies with Shepherd and Bahnsen supplied polemical contexts for developing the unique features of redemptive typology that extend many of the insights from Vos, but in a way that does not undermine Murray’s insistence on a substantially gracious Mosaic covenant. The development of Abraham as the historical figure who supplies the redemptive historical prototype for the works principle that will come to apply to national Israel develops after the controversies with Shepherd and Bahnsen in the 1970s and 1980s, but in a way that bears organic continuity with his earlier work from the 1960’s.”

Ch. 9 – M.G. Kline: Strengths and Weaknesses

I. Kline and the Administrative Republication Interpretation: Strengths and Weaknesses

“[I]t locates the character of Israel’s national obedience under the Mosaic covenant as an organic extension of the nature of Abraham’s obedience under the covenant of grace… Thus, the presence of the works principle at a typological level with respect to Abraham and Israel operates within the covenant of grace and therefore cannot be construed as a bona fide covenant of works… the language of “meritorious ground” in the case of Abraham or Israel is principally distinguished in its meaning from the same phrase when it applies to sinless federal heads, (pre-fall) Adam and Christ. Additionally, the concern that sinners can somehow merit God’s favor apart from the presence of redemptive grace loses traction on this reading of Kline, given the way that after the fall the works principle coexists with Spirit-gifted faith and obedience.”

“[O]n the question of merit, this appropriation or reading of Kline seems open to embracing the traditional distinction between ex pacto (covenant) merit and condign merit. The latter is reserved for Christ alone as the God man, whereas the former is applied to Adam in the garden. Neither notion of merit can be attributed to sinners such as Abraham or Israel.”

Weaknesses: “If our standards teach a works principle, it is found in the requirement of the moral law as a covenant of works regarding Adam’s perfect, personal, exact, and entire obedience. Every other arrangement in which obedience is rewarded is subsumed under a different category—that of sovereign, free, gracious union with Christ by faith… [A] works principle that partakes of the essential character of the covenant of grace… could tend toward confusion… It might seem more accurate to speak of a unique typological “tethering-principle” in which Spirit-wrought obedience is connected to typological land-blessing.”

Kline’s “application of merit language to sinners who are not federal heads” is a deep concern. “[I]t is very difficult to find theologians who apply the category of merit, defined in a way that is functionally similar to but ontologically distinct from ex pacto merit, to figures within redemptive history (e.g., Abraham or national Israel)… [I]t might be desirable to find language other than typological merit to express the same concepts Kline expressed, and this question ought to provide the context for continued intramural discussion within our denomination.”

II. Kline and the Substantial Interpretation: Strengths and Weaknesses

“[T]his reading of Kline… 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… Not unlike the subservient covenant position, this view holds that the conditions of this covenant are essentially changed in the coming of the new covenant, and that the difference between the old and new covenants cannot be relegated to that which is formal or administrative. Instead, the two are characterized by substantial differences in kind.”

“[T]he first weakness of this view is that it cannot easily account for those passages of Scripture that point to a gracious substance in the Sinai covenant itself… these gracious aspects of the Mosaic covenant [are, per] our confession, in the “substance” of this covenant.”

“Kline, and others developing his thought along the lines of this interpretation, have explicitly rejected the principles of proportionality and non-indebtedness in assessing the meritorious character of human obedience. Instead, merit is determined “covenantally” according to the particular terms of the covenant… [and is] simple justice… While Kline and others have rejected these principles of disproportionality and non-indebtedness, the standards regularly employ them… (WCF 2.2, 7.1… LC 193)… The proposed redefinition of merit by some proponents of republication is markedly different from that contained in our standards. In some instances, the difference and modifications are self-conscious, and done with the stated intention of making the confession more consistent.”

“[T]he idea that Old Testament figures can “merit” a blessing on a principle that is opposite to or in sharp contrast to grace is another weakness… On the “administrative” reading of Kline, these problems were mainly linguistic, in that “merit” language is used “improperly” to describe a phenomenon that is in actuality fundamentally gracious (i.e. Spirit-wrought obedience rewarded by grace). However, on the “substantial” reading of Kline, the merit-language is expressive of an arrangement undergirded by a covenantal relationship that is in substantial contrast to grace.”

“Our standards contain comprehensive rejections of the idea of the terminology of “merit” being applied to the obedience of sinners, both for temporal blessings and for eternal ones (WCF 16:5: LC 129).”
“[I]t is not clear how the redefined view of merit affects our conception of Christ’s work.”

A. Weaknesses Related to the Covenant of Works

“[A] potential weakness of this view arises when we consider the unmodifiable character of this covenant. Hence, in our standards the covenant of works is consistently defined by its essential condition requiring perfect, personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience (WCF 7.2, 19.1; SC 12; LC 20)… The works principle is said to require only imperfect obedience on the part of covenant members which functions as the (meritorious) ground, basis, or cause of the reward. God’s standard of perfect obedience in the Adamic covenant of works is thus modified. This raises the legitimate question of whether such a covenant (i.e., that which requires and/or rewards less than perfect obedience) consistently expresses the confessional idea of a covenant of works at all.”

B. Weaknesses Related to the Administration of the Covenant of Grace

“[I]t has been said that the substance of the Mosaic covenant is the covenant of grace, while the administration is a covenant of works… Simply stated, anything that functions as an “administration” of the covenant of grace must, in fact, administer grace to those who are under it… The administrative aspects of the old covenant were to function as the “outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates” to Israel “the benefits of redemption” (SC 88).”

“As typology is a subset of the broader category of the administration of the covenant, the same basic weakness arises… Saving grace was not simply administered merely as a consequence or by-product of these types. Rather, saving grace was present by and in these types, and in this way communicated grace to believers.”

“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… 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.”

C. Weaknesses Regarding the Uses of the Law

First, “While not enumerated as such in our standards, the Confession of Faith speaks of the moral law delivered at Mt. Sinai as the “perfect rule of righteousness” or “rule of life” for Christians in the covenant of grace (19.2)… if the Decalogue is expressive of a covenantal dynamic covenant that is “not gracious,” or one that is different in substance or kind from the covenant of grace, it is difficult to see how it can serve as the “rule of life” of the believer in the way defined and delimited in our standards. Simply stated, that which is intrinsically a covenant of works cannot function as a rule of life for the believer.”

“This merging of the moral law and the covenant of works in the Sinai covenant also seems connected to a tendency to merge the two in the covenant of creation… If law and covenant are so inextricably identified in creation and at Sinai, it is difficult to see how law in its natural form (i.e. the law written on man’s heart) or in its Sinaitic form (i.e. the Decalogue) can serve as a rule of life for the believer…”

Second, “it is not clear how a principle of “imperfect obedience” that at certain times has been fulfilled by fallen man is really a function of the “second use” of the law.”

Looking Back and Looking Forward

1. We have presented two readings of Meredith Kline’s corpus on covenant theology. The committee does not find these two views equally persuasive; we all agree that one understanding of Kline offers a construction of covenant theology compatible with our doctrinal standards, and another understanding of Kline (that which sees in his corpus an advocacy of substantial republication) that does not.

Can R. Scott Clark be Truly Reformed?

February 1, 2016 11 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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Paul’s Enthymemes on the Law (Gal 4:4-5)

September 30, 2015 2 comments

One of the questions that comes up for those studying 1689 Federalism is whether or not the Mosaic Covenant (which was a covenant of works) offered eternal life as a reward for obedience to the law. Historically, some have said yes, while others no. I (following Coxe, Owen, Renihans, Barcellos, etc) say no, the Mosaic Covenant only offered temporal life and blessings. However, two passages in particular seems to suggest I am mistaken and that the Mosaic Covenant did in fact offer eternal life and that Christ in fact earned our righteousness through the Mosaic Covenant.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:10-14 ESV)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)

What are we to make of these passages which seem to teach that our blessings were earned by Christ as a reward for obedience to the Mosaic Covenant (“the law”)? Well, we need to understand Paul’s rhetoric as an enthymeme. An enthymeme is “a syllogism in which one of the premises is implicit.” Britannica explains:

in syllogistic, or traditional, logic, name of a syllogistic argument that is incompletely stated. In the argument “All insects have six legs; therefore, all wasps have six legs,” the minor premise, “All wasps are insects,” is suppressed. Any one of the propositions may be omitted—even the conclusion; but in general it is the one that comes most naturally to the mind. Often in rhetorical language the deliberate omission of one of the propositions has a dramatic effect.

Wikipedia refers to it as an “informal syllogism”

Here is an example of an informal syllogism, an enthymeme:

  • Socrates is mortal because he’s human.”
The complete formal syllogism would be the classic:
All humans are mortal. (major premise – assumed)
Socrates is human. (minor premise – stated)
Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (conclusion – stated)

While syllogisms lay out all of their premises and conclusion explicitly, enthymemes keep at least one of the premises or conclusion unsaid. The assertions left unsaid are intended to be so obvious as to not need stating.

I highly recommend that everyone take some time to listen to John Robbins’ mp3 course on logic (Course 11). Education in logic used to be a prerequisite to any formal study of a subject (such as theology). The Westminster Assembly produced The Directory for Publick Worship which includes the following rule for examination of a pastor:

He shall be examined touching his skill in the original tongues and his trial to be made by reading the Hebrew and Greek testaments and rendering some portion of them into Latin. And if he be defective in them, inquiry shall be made more strictly after his other learning and whether he hath skill in logick and philosophy.

page 72

I never received any formal logic instruction, so I’m doing my best to play catch-up. We all need to play catch-up. Logic is not common sense. It’s not something everyone knows and understands. Logic is “the rules of proper thought” or “the science of necessary inference.” It is a study of the proper way to think, and it’s something a lot of us are ignorant of (and we correct this by studying how God thinks by studying Scripture and thereby developing proper rules of thought – not by looking to “natural theology”). But back to enthymeme (from Robbins’ second lecture “Definition of Terms”):

It means an argument in which one of the premises is omitted, or understood. And he [Clark] gives the illustration of a youngster convincing his parents to let him to buy some gloves. And he doesn’t express the full argument. Most of our ordinary conversations in life are enthymemes. Some of the premises are not stated, they’re understood. It would be very burdensome, very tedious, if every time we wanted to talk to someone to repeat all the premises and ask them to agree to the conclusion. So we operate on the premise that some things are understood. It’s an ellipses, as it were, in the argument.

Some people have charged the bible with committing logical fallacies, and what they normally have in mind are enthymemes. Perhaps they’ve run across an argument in Paul’s letters where he leaves out a premise as being understood. And they say, “Look, the bible can’t be the Word of God, there’s a logical fallacy.” And all Paul has done is written down an enthymeme. The bible is written in ordinary language. It’s not written as a logic textbook or a botany textbook or a geology textbook. It’s written in ordinary language and in ordinary language, ordinary conversation, usually the complete argument is not stated. Sometimes it is.

In one of the lectures I’ll talk about Paul’s use of logic. Particularly in Romans and 1 Corinthians he states the full argument, on several occasions; no enthymemes. But you need to be aware of the existence of enthymemes when people say the bible has logical blunders in it. Then you can say, ‘Well, perhaps its just an enthymeme that perhaps you’ve overlooked.’ That will drive them to their dictionary.

Bryan Estelle shows an example of this in Galatians 3:10-12

Paul has two arguments in these verses. His first argument is in verse 10 in the form of an abbreviated syllogism. Stated most simply, the argument of Galatians 3:10 assumes the following form:

PREMISE: Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.

CONCLUSION: All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse.

The implied reconstructed minor premise would then possibly look like this:

All who rely on the works of the law do not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.

Paul then goes on to make another argument in verses 11 and 12, which stated most simply assumes the following form:

MAJOR PREMISE: The one who is righteous by faith shall live (v. 11b).

MINOR PREMISE: The law is not of faith (v. 12a, reinforced by v. 12b).

CONCLUSION: No one is justified (= receives life) by law (v. 11a).

Let the reader understand the apostle’s line of reasoning here. After stating the cursed condition of every person in his first argument (v. 10), the apostle states the conclusion of his second argument first (v. 11a – “no one is justified, i.e., receives entitlement to heaven, by law”) and then asserts justification is by faith (v. 11b), and furthermore, law and faith are antithetical (read = incompatible, 3:12). The logic is lucid and insuperable: Habakkuk 2:4 and Leviticus 18:5 are “two mutually exclusive soteriological statements.”

Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical Theological Development (133-4)

Much of exegesis involves reconstructing the logic implicit in Scripture, making it explicit and therefore easier to understand.

Returning to Galatians 3:10-14 that we started with, the question we are addressing is how Paul can use “the law” as a reference to the Adamic Covenant in distinction from the Old Covenant. For the sake of argument, assume that I am correct in stating that only the Adamic Covenant of Works offered eternal life upon the condition of obedience to the law, and the Mosaic Covenant blessings were limited to temporal life and blessing in Canaan upon the condition of obedience to the law. (For more on this, see here)

CovenantDocuments_Old+Adamic

Paul is then appealing to the written law of the Old Covenant as representative of the law of the Covenant of Works (which was unwritten and therefore could not be quoted). In doing so, he is not claiming the Old Covenant offered eternal life. He is using the principle of works established in the Old Covenant to make a point about the obedience required from those seeking to earn by their works. A reconstruction of Paul’s enthymeme might look like:

P1 Though the rewards differ (and thus the covenants are distinct), the law was given in both the Adamic and the Old Covenants as a covenant of works (meaning they operate upon the same principle of works).

P2 I cannot quote from the Adamic Covenant because it was not written down for us.

C1 I can quote statements about the conditions of the law in the Old Covenant in order to explain the conditions of the law in the Adamic Covenant (while keeping the two covenants distinct).


P3 I can quote statements about the conditions of the law in the Old Covenant in order to explain the conditions of the law in the Adamic Covenant (while keeping the two covenants distinct).

P4 “The law” can be used as shorthand reference for the Old Covenant law principle.

C2 “The law” can be used as shorthand reference for the Adamic Covenant law principle (while keeping the two covenants distinct).


We can then unpack the logic of the verses in question to demonstrate they are not teaching that Christ earned eternal life for us through the Old Covenant.

P5 “The law” can be used as shorthand reference for Adamic Covenant law principle (while keeping the two covenants distinct).

P6 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

C3 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Adamic Covenant (in distinction from the Old Covenant).


P7 Christ was born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law

P8 “the law” can be used as shorthand reference for the law principle found in the Adamic Covenant.

C4 Christ was born under the law principle found in the Adamic Covenant.


P9 Christ was born under the law principle found in the Adamic Covenant.

P10 The law principle itself (do this and live) can be distinguished from a specific covenant.

C5 Christ was born under the principle of “Do this and live” although he was not born under the Adamic Covenant.

Long story short, understanding Scripture requires unpacking the logic implicit in the explicit statements. The simple fact that the law often has reference to the Old Covenant does not therefore mean that Christ earned our reward via the Old Covenant. Contextual clues help us know which covenant/law Paul is referring to, such as the fact that Gentiles were never under the curse of the Old Covenant, and thus could not be redeemed from it. And of course all of this assumes a distinction between the moral law itself and the moral law as a covenant of works.

See also:

Kline’s Covenant Creation & WCF 7.1

May 26, 2015 25 comments

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:

7.1_renihan_simplified

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.

Kline:

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.

Kline:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When and How

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider also Samuel John Baird (1860):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VanDrunen then applies this to the question of republication:

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

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

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

I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

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

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

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

Post Script

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

Kline on “Administration of the Covenant of Grace”

March 30, 2015 25 comments

Lee Irons has been posting a series summarizing Kline’s views on the Mosaic Covenant and clarifying what he sees as misrepresentations. It’s a very helpful series and I appreciate his efforts. However, I think one of them fails to defend Kline against from his critics. The Fourth Misrepresentation Of Kline deals with the claim that Kline denied the Mosaic Covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace. Irons references Kline’s two-layer cake and then concludes:

Kline clearly affirms that the covenant of grace unfolded in several administrations (including the Mosaic covenant!) and that this overarching covenant of grace reached its culmination in the new covenant.

I do not think Kline is contradicting himself. He is not saying that the Mosaic covenant itself (the covenant between God and Israel that was inaugurated at Sinai) was a covenant of grace. It was not. It was a covenant of the works variety. But he is saying that God’s establishment of this Mosaic covenant of works was designed to advance the covenant of grace and that therefore it was a sub-administration of the covenant of grace. To use the language of some 17th century Reformed theologians, it was a “subservient covenant” intended not to be an end in itself but to look ahead to the coming Seed who would be born under it and fulfill it and thereby bring about the consummation of the covenant of grace.

Essentially the argument is that if you believe the Mosaic Covenant served the purposes of the covenant of grace, then you believe it was an administration of the covenant of grace.

The problem is that is not what the term means. It means that the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant were not two different covenants but were in fact the same covenant. If you deny that, you deny the Mosaic was an administration of the covenant of grace, regardless of what purpose it served.

Calvin’s comments on Hebrews 8 exemplify the view.

But what he adds is not without some difficulty, — that the covenant of the Gospel was proclaimed on better promises; for it is certain that the fathers who lived under the Law had the same hope of eternal life set before them as we have, as they had the grace of adoption in common with us, then faith must have rested on the same promises. But the comparison made by the Apostle refers to the form rather than to the substance; for though God promised to them the same salvation which he at this day promises to us, yet neither the manner nor the character of the revelation is the same or equal to what we enjoy. If anyone wishes to know more on this subject, let him read the 4th and 5th chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians and my Institutes.
In his Institutes we find the following (referencing Hebrews 7-9):

Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law compares with the covenant of the gospel, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. But since the trend of the argument leads us in another direction, we must follow it to find the truth. Let us then set forth the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. Its fulfillment, by which is is finally confirmed and ratified, is Christ. While such confirmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that confirmation. A controversy arose over whether or not the ceremonies that had been ordained in the law ought to give way to Christ. Now these were only the accidental properties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it. Yet because they were means of administering it, they bear the name “covenant,” just as is customary in the case of other sacraments. To sum up then, in this passage “Old Testament” means the solemn manner of confirming the covenant, comprised in ceremonies and sacrifices.Because nothing substantial underlies this unless we go beyond it, the apostle contends that it ought to be terminated and abrogated, to give place to Christ, the Sponsor and Mediator of a better covenant [cf. Heb 7:22]; whereby he imparts eternal sanctifications once and for all to the elect, blotting out their transgressions, which remained under the law. Or, if you prefer, understand it thus: the Old Testament of the Lord was that covenant [the eternal covenant -BA] wrapped up in the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies and delivered to the Jews; it was temporary because it remained, as it were, in suspense until it might rest upon a firm and substantial confirmation. It became new and eternal only after it was consecrated and established by the blood of Christ. Hence Christ in the Supper calls the cup that he gives to his disciples “the cup of the New Testament in my blood” [Luke 22:20]. By this he means that the Testament of God attained its truth when sealed by his blood, and thereby becomes new and eternal.

Institutes, 2.11.4

Calvin is clear: The Old and New Covenant were the same covenant. They were the same in substance. They differed only in their outward appearance, the manner of revelation, the ceremonies, the accidents – in sum, the administration. This is what it means for the Mosaic Covenant to be an administration of the covenant of grace: they are the same covenants with the same promises and the same means of obtaining the promise. This is the meaning of WCF 7.6
6. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.
Now John Owen is helpful in addressing this question because he agrees with Kline’s exegesis:

’I exercised the right, power, and authority of a husband towards them; I dealt with them as a husband with a wife that breaketh covenant:’ that is, saith the apostle, ‘“ I regarded them not” with the love, tenderness, and affection of a husband.’ So he dealt indeed with that generation which so suddenly brake covenant with him. He provided no more for them as unto the enjoyment of the inheritance, he took them not home unto him in his habitation, his resting-place in the land of promise; but he suffered them all to wander, and bear their whoredoms in the wilderness, until they were consumed. So did God exercise the right, and power, and authority of a husband towards a wife that had broken covenant. And herein, as in many other things in that dispensation, did God give a representation of the nature of the covenant of works, and the issue of it…

Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of. And from the whole we may observe sundry things.

-Exposition of Hebrews 8:9

But precisely because he agrees with Kline, Owen says the Mosaic Covenant is not an administration of the covenant of grace.

Suppose, then, that this new covenant of grace was extant and effectual under the old testament, so as the church was saved by virtue thereof, and the mediation of Christ therein, how could it be that there should at the same time be another covenant between God and them, of a different nature from this, accompanied with other promises, and other effects?

On this consideration it is said, that the two covenants mentioned, the new and the old, were not indeed two distinct covenants, as unto their essence and substance, but only different administrations of the same covenant, called two covenants from some different outward solemnities and duties of worship attending of them. To clear this it must be observed, —

1. That by the old covenant, the original covenant of works, made with Adam and all mankind in him, is not intended; for this is undoubtedly a covenant different in the essence and substance of it from the new.

2. By the new covenant, not the new covenant absolutely and originally, as given in the first promise, is intended; but in its complete gospel administration, when it was actually established by the death of Christ, as administered in and by the ordinances of the new testament. This, with the covenant of Sinai, were, as most say, but different administrations of the same covenant.

But on the other hand, there is such express mention made, not only in this, but in sundry other places of the Scripture also, of two distinct covenants, or testaments, and such different natures, properties, and effects, ascribed unto them, as seem to constitute two distinct covenants. This, therefore, we must inquire into; and shall first declare what is agreed unto by those who are sober in this matter, though they differ in their judgments about this question, whether two distinct covenants, or only a twofold administration of the same covenant, be intended. And indeed there is so much agreed on, as that what remains seems rather to be a difference about the expression of the same truth, than any real contradiction about the things themselves. For, —

1. It is agreed that the way of reconciliation with God, of justification and salvation, was always one and the same…

2. That the writings of the Old Testament, namely, the Law, Psalms, and Prophets, do contain and declare the doctrine of justification and salvation by Christ…

3. That by the covenant of Sinai, as properly so called, separated from its figurative relation unto the covenant of grace, none was ever eternally saved.

4. That the use of all the institutions whereby the old covenant was administered, was to represent and direct unto Jesus Christ, and his mediation.

These things being granted, the only way of life and salvation by Jesus Christ, under the old testament and the new, is secured; which is the substance of the truth wherein we are now concerned. On these grounds we may proceed with our inquiry.

The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new. And whereas the essence and the substance of the covenant consists in these things, they are not to be said to be under another covenant, but only a different administration of it. But this was so different from that which is established in the gospel after the coming of Christ, that it hath the appearance and name of another covenant. And the difference between these two administrations may be reduced unto the ensuing heads: —

1. It consisted in the way and manner of the declaration of the mystery of the love and will of God in Christ…

2. In the plentiful communication of grace unto the community of the church…

3. In the manner of our access unto God…

4. In the way of worship required under each administration…

5. In the extent of the dispensation of the grace of God;…

Sundry other things are usually added by our divines unto the same purpose. See Calvin. Institut. lib. 2:cap. xi.; Martyr. Loc. Com. loc. 16, sect. 2; Bucan. loc. 22, etc.

The Lutherans, on the other side, insist on two arguments to prove, that not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that two covenants substantially distinct, are intended in this discourse of the apostle.

1. Because in the Scripture they are often so called, and compared with one another, and sometimes opposed unto one another; the first and the last, the new and the old.

2. Because the covenant of grace in Christ is eternal, immutable, always the same, obnoxious unto no alteration, no change or abrogation; neither can these things be spoken of it with respect unto any administration of it. as they are spoken of the old covenant…

4. These things being observed, we may consider that the Scripture doth plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way, as what is spoken can hardly be accommodated unto a twofold administration of the same covenant. The one is mentioned and described, Exodus 24:3-8,Deuteronomy 5:2-5, — namely, the covenant that God made with the people of Israel in Sinai; and which is commonly called “the covenant,” where the people under the old testament are said to keep or break God’s covenant; which for the most part is spoken with respect unto that worship which was peculiar thereunto. The other is promised, Jer 31:31-34, 32:40; which is the new or gospel covenant, as before explained, mention Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24. And these two covenants, or testaments, are compared one with the other and opposed one unto another 2 Cor 3:6-9; Gal 4:24-26; Heb 7:22, 9:15-20…

5. Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended. We must, I say, do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, —and with great pretense of reason, for it is that which is the sole foundation they all build upon who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, —’That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation be the same under both, then indeed are they for the substance of them but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow, if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue thereof, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, whilst they were under the covenant.

As therefore I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition, so I shall propose sundry things which relate unto the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace: —…

This is the nature and substance of that covenant which God made with that people; a particular, temporary covenant it was, and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace…

For some, when they hear that the covenant of grace was always one and the same, of the same nature and efficacy under both testaments, —that the way of salvation by Christ was always one and the same, —are ready to think that there was no such great difference between their state and ours as is pretended. But we see that on this supposition, that covenant which God brought the people into at Sinai, and under the yoke whereof they were to abide until the new covenant was established, had all the disadvantages attending it which we have insisted on. And those who understand not how excellent and glorious those privileges are which are added unto the covenant of grace, as to the administration of it, by the introduction and establishment of the new covenant, are utterly unacquainted with the nature of spiritual and heavenly things…

’I exercised the right, power, and authority of a husband towards them; I dealt with them as a husband with a wife that breaketh covenant:’ that is, saith the apostle, ‘“ I regarded them not” with the love, tenderness, and affection of a husband.’ So he dealt indeed with that generation which so suddenly brake covenant with him. He provided no more for them as unto the enjoyment of the inheritance, he took them not home unto him in his habitation, his resting-place in the land of promise; but he suffered them all to wander, and bear their whoredoms in the wilderness, until they were consumed. So did God exercise the right, and power, and authority of a husband towards a wife that had broken covenant. And herein, as in many other things in that dispensation, did God give a representation of the nature of the covenant of works, and the issue of it…

‘This was the issue of things with them with whom the first covenant was made. They received it, entered solemnly into the bonds of it, took upon themselves expressly the performance of its terms and conditions, were sprinkled with the blood of it; but they “continued not in it,” and were dealt withal accordingly. God used the right and authority of a husband with whom a wife breaketh covenant; he “neglected them,” shut them out of his house, deprived them of their dowry or inheritance, and slew them in the wilderness…

Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of. And from the whole we may observe sundry things.

http://www.prayermeetings.org/files/John_Owen/Hebrews_8.1-10.39.pdf (starting on page 84)

Owen is clear: the meaning of the Westminster phrase “administration of the covenant of grace” can be found most clearly in Calvin (specifically the portion we quoted already) and it means they are the same covenant with different outward appearances, rather than two distinct covenants. If you disagree with that and see them as two different covenants, then you are disagreeing with the reformed divines when they say they were both administrations of the covenant of grace. Note, Owen sides with the Lutherans who say that is incorrect because “neither can these things be spoken of it with respect unto any administration of it as they are spoken of the old covenant.” That is to say, the differences are not just in outward appearance.So the question is: Does Kline or Owen better understand the meaning of “an administration of the covenant of grace”?

Samuel Bolton, a proponent of the subservient covenant view that Irons aligns Kline with, provides the following summary of the “administration of the covenant of grace” view (which he does not agree with):

There is, however, a second opinion in which I find that the majority of our holy and most learned divines concur, namely, that though the law is called a covenant, yet it was not a covenant of works for salvation; nor was it a third covenant of works and grace; but it was the same covenant in respect of its nature and design under which we stand under the Gospel, even the covenant of grace, though more legally dispensed to the Jews. It differed not in substance from the covenant of grace, but in degree, say some divines, in the economy and external administration of it, say others. The Jews, they agree, were under infancy, and therefore under “a schoolmaster”. In this respect the covenant of grace under the law is called by such divines “foedus vetus” (the old covenant), and under the Gospel “foedus novum” (the new covenant): see Heb. 8:8. The one was called old, and the other new, not because the one was before the other by the space of four hundred and thirty years, but because the legal administrations mentioned were waxing old and decaying, and were ready to disappear and to give place to a more new and excellent administration. “That which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away”. The one covenant was more obscurely administered, shadowed, darkened with shadows; the other was administered more perspicuously and clearly. The one was more onerous and burdensome, the other more easy and delightful. The one through the legal means of its administration gendered to bondage, the other to son-like freedom. All this may be seen clearly in Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1; Gal. 3:1-4:3. Hence, as Alsted tells us, the new and old covenants, the covenants of the law and Gospel, are both of them really covenants of grace, only differing in their administrations. That they were virtually the same covenant is alleged in Luke 1:72-75: “To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant”. What was “his holy covenant”? It is made clear in verse 74 that in substance it was the same as the covenant of grace: “That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”

Admitting that “He is not saying that the Mosaic covenant itself (the covenant between God and Israel that was inaugurated at Sinai) was a covenant of grace. It was not. It was a covenant of the works variety.” is admitting that it was not an administration of the covenant of grace. To say that the Mosaic Covenant was of works means it was NOT of the same substance as the covenant of grace. I agree with Irons and Kline and Owen on the Mosaic Covenant. It was not of the same substance. It was of works for life in the land. But that is why I believe the criticism sticks. That is why Owen said he disagreed with the reformed (and that’s why his Savoy declaration removed 7.6).

This was Patrick Ramsey’s point in an essay titled “In Defense of Moses.” I disagree with Ramsey’s interpretation of the Mosaic Covenant, but his interpretation of Westminster Federalism is correct. He demonstrates that Westminster rejected the subservient covenant view.

The primary reason for holding to the Subservient Covenant is the contrast and opposition found in Scripture between the old and new covenants (2 Cor 3:6-9; Gal 4:24- 26; Heb 7:22; 9:15-20).46 Since the Mosaic Covenant is a covenant, it must either be a covenant of works, a covenant of grace, or some other covenant. Clearly it cannot be a covenant of works, since, among other reasons, that would annul the promise.

The Mosaic Covenant cannot be the Covenant of Grace. For the glory of the New Covenant is that we are freed from the law as a covenant and not just its legal or administrative aspect. Accordingly, it cannot be part of the Covenant of Grace for we are never set free from it. Hence, the Mosaic Covenant must be a third covenant, one that is not contrary to the promises of grace, though one that could be set aside, namely the Subservient Covenant…

It is important to remember that the primary biblical reason that some divines held to the Subservient Covenant was because they understood the Scriptures to teach that the Old Covenant was abrogated as a covenant. The contrast was not found to be in mere administrations but in covenants. As we have already seen, they themselves understood their view of the Mosaic Covenant to differ in substance with the Covenant of Grace.

The entire point of the subservient covenant view was that it was subservient to the covenant of grace because it was not itself the covenant of grace – therefore it was not an administration of the covenant of grace.

I believe Ramsey is correct in demonstrating WCF rejected the subservient covenant view and I think Owen is clear in his rejection of the WCF view. Kline should have been too. If Owen’s view was compatible with the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace, why did he feel the need to reject that view? Why did he feel the need to side with the Lutherans? I think the answer is because he understood the issue better than Kline and Irons.


Addendum: Tobias Crisp

In the comments below, Jack referenced J.V. Fesko’s new book on the Westminster Confession. Fesko claims the only view excluded by the confession (7.6) was that of Tobias Crisp. Crisp argued that Hebrews 8 taught that the Old and the New Covenants were two distinct covenants:

He intimates to us that there is a distinct covenant, whereof Christ is the mediator, differ ing from that, whereof the priest was the mediator : he doth not fay, he is the mediator of better things in the fame covenant, but of a better covenant : a better and a worse covenant must be two several covenants ; better and worse qualities may be in one and the fame ; but for the covenant itself to be called better than another, is a mani fest argument of a double covenant…

Again, the apostle speaks of a second coming in the place of the first ; we cannot fay of one and the self-fame covenant, that it comes in place of it self; when one thing comes in the place of another, these two must needs be distinct : can you fay of the one and the fame thing, that it is disannulled, and that it is not ? that it vanishes, and yet that it is come in the place of itself when it vanishes?

The Two Covenants of Grace

Crisp agreed with the bi-covenantal view of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. However, he said that the Old Covenant could not be the covenant of works because it provided for the forgiveness of sins, which the covenant of works does not. He therefore concludes that the Old Covenant was a covenant of grace.

So that it is plain, the administration of their covenant was an administration of grace, absolutely distinct from that of the covenant of works. That Christ’s covenant was a covenant of grace, I will not stand to prove ; I know no man questions it that professes himself a Christian ; but now though these two, as it appears plainly, are covenants of grace ; so it mall appear as fully to you that they are two distinct covenants of grace ; they are not one and the same covenant diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants’…

Notice that last point: they are not one and the same diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants. Crisp indicates that this, specifically, was a very controversial position to take. The prevailing view was that they were the same covenant, not two distinct covenants. He says that if he were to make this claim apart from Apostolic warrant, he would be censured:

there are certain gene ral covenants that God made with men ; usually they are reduced to two heads ; the first is com monly called the covenant of works, first made in innocency ; the terms thereof are of a double nature, Do this and live ; and cursed is every one that continueth not in all things thai are written in the. hook of the law to do them ; life upon doing, a curie upon not doing ; in sum, the covenant of works stands upon these terms, that in perfect obedience there should be life; at the first failing therein, no remedy, no admittance of remission ot” sins upon any terms in the world ; Christ can not come in, ,nor be heard upon the terms of the covenant of works. There is a second general covenant, and that is usually called, a new cove nant, or sa covenant of grace ; and this, in op position to the other, stands only in matter of grace without works through Christ : This, as far as I can find, is generally received to be the right distribution of the covenants of God ; the covenant of grace being most commonly taken for one ‘ entire covenant from first to last ;…

He intimates to us that there is a distinct covenant, whereof Christ is the mediator, differ ing from that, whereof the priest was the media tor : he doth not fay, he is the mediator of bet ter things in the fame covenant, but of a better covenant : a better and a worse covenant must be two several covenants ; better and worse qualities may be in one and the fame ; but for the covenant itself to be called better than another, is a manifest argument of a double covenant…

If all this be not a sufficient evidence to clear this, that they are distinct covenants ; and so distinct, that though both be covenants of grace, yet the one must be difannulled before the other can be established ; I know nothing that can be proved by scripture. But to come to the main thing ; there being two distinct covenants, let us fee wherein that which Christ administered, is better than that the priests did ; and this will be of very great concern to the settling of spirits : the differences are marvellous ; the apostle expresses them in such language, that, I dare be bold to fay, if any man mould utter it, and not have his warrant from him, he would go nigh to be censured.

Demonstrating that these are two distinct covenants, rather than the prevailing view that they are the same covenant, is the entire focus of his sermon. Thus the confession is clearly rejecting Crisp’s view when it says

6. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

The precise point of the confession in this paragraph in chapter 7 on God’s covenant is to reject the view that the Old and the New Covenants were two different covenants. Instead, they are “one and the same under various dispensations.” Recall Crisp’s statement “so it mall appear as fully to you that they are two distinct covenants of grace ; they are not one and the same covenant diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants.” This is what 7.6 is dealing with.

Does Fesko agree? No, he says that was not the point of 7.6. Instead, the point of the statement was a rejection of Crisp’s view of the moral law.

The question naturally arises, why did the divines specifically zero in on this view and exclude it? From one vantage point there appears to be little indication that Crisp’s view differs from the cornucopia of variations that existed at that time on the relationship between the Mosaic covenant and the covenants of works and grace. What difference is there, for example, between saying that there is one covenant of grace with legal accidents that fall away at the advent of Christ, who is the substance, and saying there are two covenants of grace? Crisp, after all, indicates that Christ is typified and foreshadowed in the weaker covenant of grace. The most likely answer is that Crisp’s view on the relationship between the covenant of works and grace and the moral law struck and severed a nerve that the divines believed was vital to an orthodox soteriology.

Most Reformed theologians, whether holding a threefold or a twofold covenantal scheme in their several variants, maintained the perpetual necessity and binding nature of the moral law. Crisp, however, rejected the idea that the moral law was still binding upon believers.

The Theology of the Westminster Standards, p. 156

Crisp believed the moral law itself was the covenant of works.

to me it seems most plain, that the opposition the apostle here makes, is not between the covenant of works and that of grace ; and that he, in all this dis course, hath not the least glance upon the cove nant of works at all, nor doth he meddle with it: You know, beloved, that the articles of that covenant, are drawn up in the decalogue of the moral law ; and in all this discourse, from chap. vii. 1. to the end of chap. x. the apostle doth not so much as take notice of the moral law, nor hath he to do one jot with any clause of it ;…

You see the apostle from Jeremiah, brings a direct distinction of two covenants ; I will make a new covenant, not according to the covenant I made -with their fathers. Here are two covenants, a new one, and one made with their sathers. Some may think it was the covenant of works at the promulgation of the moral law ; but mark well that expression of Jeremiah, and you (hall see it was the covenant of grace;

Several remarks are called for:

  1. Crisp’s view that the moral law (decalogue) itself was the covenant of works is shared by Lee Irons, David VanDrunen, and other Klineans.
  2. If that was the only point of concern, it is adequately dealt with in Chapter 19 “Of The Law of God” where that view is rejected.
  3. Crisp was not alone in this view (“Some may think it was the covenant of works at the promulgation of the moral law”)
  4. Crisp identified the controversial part of his view as separating the Old and the New Covenants, and he did so in language nearly identical to the statement in 7.6.

There is absolutely no doubt that what the confession is rejecting in 7.6 is not Crisp’s view of the moral law (which is rejected elsewhere), but his view of the covenant of grace. His separation of the Old and New Covenants into two different covenants is what is rejected by the confession.

Now, let’s look more closely at 7.6 to see if it applies to the subservient covenant view as well. I will paraphrase to make it clearer.

[The Old and the New Covenants are not], therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

Clear enough. But Fesko would have you believe that 7.6 does not apply to the subservient view. What is the difference between Crisp’s view and the subservient view? Crisp saw the Old Covenant as gracious while the subservients said it was of works. They agreed, however, that they were not “one and the same” covenant.

Let’s paraphrase again.

[The Old and the New Covenants are not], therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

There is no reason to believe that the divines would have affirmed a view that the Old Covenant was of works, while rejecting a view that it was of grace. Their point was that the two covenants are not separate, “but one and the same.” The subservient view rejects that they are “but one and the same” and therefore the Westminster confession rejects the subservient view.

Savoy Declaration

Below, Jack draws attention to Fesko’s comment that some Westminster divines held to the subservient view. That fact itself proves nothing. As Ramsey notes

Objection 3: The position of the Westminster Confession of Faith is somewhat ambiguous in that tensions or differences between the Puritans were not resolved. Hence the Confession allows for more than one opinion on the issue.

It is certainly true that there was a great debate among the Puritans as to the nature of the Mosaic Covenant. Moreover, Reformed Presbyterians have continued the debate. However, this does not imply that the Puritans themselves did not come to a majority consensus. As we have already noted, the exhaustive research of E. F. Kevan concludes that they did: “The outcome of the Puritan debate was that, on the whole, it was agreed that the Mosaic Covenant was a form of the Covenant of Grace; and this view was embodied in the Confession of Faith.”

The Puritans debated church government. There were Presbyterians, Erastians, and Independents at the Assembly. Nonetheless, the Presbyterian view prevailed as is indicated by the text of the Confession itself. The section on church government is simply intolerant of any view other than Presbyterianism. The same is true concerning the nature of the Mosaic Covenant.

Fesko notes

Other theologians who have been identified with the threefold (subservient) view include Westminster divines Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) and Obadiah Sedgwick (ca. 1600-1658), as well as John Owen (1616-1683), Samuel Petto (1624-1711), and Edward Fisher.

Thomas Goodwin was an Independent. His view of church government did not prevail at the assembly. Therefore pointing to his views, or any other views, as proof that it was accepted, is false. But furthermore, Goodwin went on to draft the Savoy Declaration a decade later. He and Owen were the leaders assigned to the writing/editing of the Independent confession (with 4 other men). Samuel Petto was a signatory as well.

What did they do with 7.6? They deleted it.