Covenant of Works
All posts tagged Covenant of Works
In this post from Particular Voices, Benjamin Keach comments on the nature of the Sinaitic covenant as a republication, in greater detail and with specific application to national Israel, of the covenant of works made with Adam, albeit for a different purpose.
Some think the righteousness of Jesus Christ, or his active obedience in our stead, needless; unless as a part of his satisfaction for sin; because (say they) the law requires not of us both suffering and obedience. I Answer, the Law, as a Covenant of Works, required suffering in satisfaction for sin, and as it belongeth to the Covenant of Grace, so it requireth perfect obedience (to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ) as the condition of the Justification and Life of sinners.
“Christ and the Condition: Samuel Petto (c.1624-1711) on the Mosaic Covenant,” by Michael G. Brown
How did Israel’s response to the Sinai Covenant affect them?
On this occasionally fell out the ruin of that people; “their table became a snare to them, and that which should have been for their welfare became a trap,” according to the prediction of our Savior, Ps. 69:22. It was this covenant that raised and ruined them. It raised them to glory and honor when given of God; it ruined them when abused by themselves to ends contrary to express declarations of his mind and will. For although the generality of them were wicked and rebellious, always breaking the terms of the covenant which God made with them, so far as it was possible they should, while God determined to reign over them to the appointed season, and repining under the burden of it; yet they would have this covenant to be the only rule and means of righteousness, life, and salvation, as the apostle declares, Rom. 9:31-33; 10:3. For, as we have often said, there were two things in it, both which they abused to other ends than what God designed them:
How did the Jews misinterpret the Sinai Covenant’s reference to the Covenant of Works?
There was the renovation of the rule of the covenant of works for righteousness and life. And this they would have to be given to them for those ends, and so sought for righteousness by the works of the law.
In other words, despite God’s reminder that only perfect obedience could merit eternal life, the Israelites tried to make a national covenant promising material & temporal blessings into a new Covenant of Works like the one made with Adam.
How did the Jews misinterpret the ways in which the Sinai Covenant pointed to the Covenant of Grace?
There was ordained in it a typical representation of the way and means in accordance with which the promise was to be made effectual, namely, in the mediation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ; which was the end [purpose] of all their ordinances of worship. And the outward law of it, with the observance of its institution, they looked on as their only relief when they came short of exact and perfect righteousness.
Thus, instead of recognizing that the animal sacrifices pointed toward the reality of Christ’s sacrifice, the Israelites believed that the outward observance of sacrificing the animals (in and of itself) actually obtained forgiveness for their sins.
Why is it important to grasp the true meaning of the Sinai Covenant, instead of misinterpreting it like the Jews did?
Against both these pernicious errors the apostle disputes expressly in his epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, to save them, if it were possible, from that ruin they were casting themselves into. On this “the elect obtained,” but “the rest were hardened.” For by that means they made an absolute renunciation of the promise, in which alone God had enwrapped the way of life and salvation.
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 (Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, pp. 198-199).
Theologians have historically disagreed concerning the nature and purpose of the “Mosaic” Covenant, which God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. Most Presbyterians follow the Westminster Confession (VII:iii-vi) in describing this covenant as merely one administration of the over-arching “Covenant of Grace.” Others have disagreed, saying that this Covenant is a restatement of the Old Covenant of Works made with Adam before his fall. Is the Sinai Covenant the Covenant of Grace? Is it the Covenant of Works? Both? Neither?
John Owen, in his Commentary on Hebrews, describes the Sinai Covenant as being formally neither the Covenant of Grace nor the Covenant of Works, but a national covenant made with Israel which, while pointing to both the principles of works and grace, was itself confined to material, temporal things.
“This covenant thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished forever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such.”
At Sinai, God gave Israel a law. What was its relationship to the Covenant of Works?
“It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and in that respect, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. 3:9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.”
The Sinai covenant included many instructions regarding sacrifices for sin. What was its relationship to the Covnenant of Grace?
“And on the other hand, it directed also to the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation to all that did believe.”
But despite these shadows and signs of eternal things, the Sinai covenant cannot be formally called either The Covenant of Works, or the Covenant of Grace. It was its own entity, with its own purpose, given to a special people in a special situation in history.
“But as to what it had of its own, it was confined to things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works” (Nehemiah Coxe & John Owen, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, pp. 197-198).
Must we meet a requirement of faithfulness in order to receive the blessings of the Covenant of Grace?
“The promises of the covenant of grace are better than those of any other covenant, as for many other reasons, so especially because the grace of them prevents any condition or qualification on our part.”
But doesn’t God require our obedience?
“I do not say the covenant of grace is absolutely without conditions, if by conditions we intend the duties of obedience which God requires of us in and by virtue of that covenant; but this I say, the principal promises of it are not in the first place remunerative of our obedience in the covenant, but efficaciously assumptive of us into covenant, and establishing or confirming in the covenant.”
What Owen is explaining here is that the main promises of the Covenant of Grace have to do with our being brought into the Covenant. We are not brought into the Covenant because of our obedience; our obedience is required because we have already been brought in by God’s free grace.
How is this different from the Covenant of Works made with Adam?
“The covenant of works had its promises, but they were all remunerative, respecting an antecedent obedience in us; (so were all those which were peculiar to the covenant of Sinai).”
So, Adam was promised reward which he would receive only if he first perfectly obeyed God’s commands.
But wasn’t there any grace involved in God’s covenant with Adam?
“They were, indeed, also of grace, in that the reward did infinitely exceed the merit of our obedience; but yet they all supposed it, and the subject of them was formally reward only.”
How is this grace different from the grace shown in the Covenant of Grace?
“In the covenant of grace it is not so; for several of the promises of it are the means of our being taken into covenant, of our entering into covenant with God. The first covenant absolutely was established on promises, in that when men were actually taken into it, they were encouraged to obedience by the promises of a future reward. But those promises, namely, of the pardon of sin and writing of the law in our hearts, on which the apostle expressly insists as the peculiar promises of this covenant, do take place and are effectual antecedently to our covenant obedience.”
In the Covenant of Works made with Adam, the promised reward would be received only if Adam had first demonstrated perfect obedience. In the Covenant of Grace, the promises are received before our obedience – indeed, we are only able to obey as a response to our prior salvation!
Does God grant us eternal life because He sees our faith? No!
“For although faith be required in order of nature antecedently to our actual receiving of the pardon of sin, yet is that faith itself produced in us by the grace of the promise, and so its precedence to pardon respects only the order that God had appointed in the communication of the benefits of the covenant, and intends not that the pardon of sin is the reward of our faith” (John Owen, Covenant Theology From Adam to Christ, pp. 178-179).
Do the Westminster Standards teach Merit? More importantly, do the Scriptures teach Merit? What is Merit? Did Christ merit anything by His work on earth? Was Adam, in God’s original arrangement with him, justified by works, or through faith? There are some who deny a meritorious arrangement with Adam, denying the existence of a “Covenant of Works.” Pastor Wes White tackes these questions and responds to the erroneous claims of the Joint Federal Vision Profession in this post:
Do the Westminster Standards Teach Merit?
In order to answer the question of whether the Westminster Standards teach merit, we must know what merit is. So, what is merit? Merit is defined in the dictionary as worth. As a verb, to merit something is to deserve something.
With that definition in mind, we can now consider whether the Westminster Standards teach merit. If you search the Westminster Standards, you will find that it does use the word “merits” in reference to Christ. Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 55 says that Christ appears in our nature before the Father in heaven “in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth.” Thus, Christ’s obedience and sacrifice on earth was meritorious, and it is Christ’s will that the merit of His obedience and sacrifice would be “applied to all believers.”
You can read the rest of Pastor White’s excellent post here.