Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Covenant of Works

This is a doctrine that has come under attack from many quarters, including some from within the Reformed world. Therefore, it behoves us to examine carefully what it meant, and why it is important. God made a covenant with Adam. Now, even that statement is disputed these days, so let's flesh that out a bit. The Westminster divines, in interpreting the moral law, say that the moral law was first given to Adam as a covenant of works (WCF 19.1). In saying that it was the moral law given to Adam, the divines meant for us to use the same principles of interpretation with regard to this moral law as found in the Adamic covenant, as those principles of interpretation used for interpreting the Ten Commandments. These principles are to be found in 99.4 of the Larger Catechism, in particular. Those principles state that, in the moral law, a positive command has, as its necessary corollary, the corresponding negative injunction. Conversely, a negative command has its corollary the corresponding opposite positive command. For instance, the command not to steal also means that we should protect someone else's property. The command to avoid murder also means that we should protect life, etc. So, the real command that God gave to Adam runs something like this: "Obey my word, and accept as your law what I say. Don't try to determine good and evil for yourself. After all, it was I who made you. I give you this little negative command as a test, to see if you will obey me or not." The negative command therefore has its correlating positive command this injunction: "Obey God." Consequently, by extension of this principle (and also listed in 99.4 of the carechism), if God gives a promise or a threat, then the corresponding opposite promise or threat is also enjoined. So, God, in threatening death upon disobedience, also promised life upon obedience. That is ho the divines interpreted the Covenant of Works. WCF 7.1 indicates clearly that man could never put God in his debt. Some "voluntary condescension" was necessary. This point is vital, since many critics of the idea of the Covenant of Works weem to think that the only kind of merit that Adam could possibly have is that kind of absolute merit that is impossible for Adam to have. The real merit by which Adam would have earned eternal life is that merit according to pact. God voluntarily condescended to bind Himself to a pact whereby Adam could earn (not absolutely, but by pact) eternal life. This follows logically from the exegesis of the negative command. Obviously, if Adam would have died by disobeying, then, by the same token, he must have obtained eternal life by obeying. Some will object here, saying that the text only states that Adam would have continued in the state wherein he was created. However, this raises some serious problems. If this is true, then Adam would remained perpetually in a state of probation, since there is nothing in the text of Genesis 1-3 whereby Adam could have escaped that period of probation. His holiness would have been perpetually mutable if there was not some promise of something better. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:44b-45, exegetes the phrase "God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" as promising that there was in fact something better: a glorified Holy-Spiritual body. That is, a body which is inbreathed by the Holy Spirit, just as we were inbreathed by regular air in Adam's creation. I infer from this statement of Paul's, that Adam must have known this, since Paul says, in effect, that it is deducible from the creation of man itself. So, even though there are not so many words telling us that there was something better, yet Paul says that there was, simply by telling us that there was a first body implying a second body. That is the answer to the objection that there is nothing in Genesis to tell us about this glorified state. There is; it's called Geneses 2:7. That is the Covenant of Works as expounded by the Westminster divines.


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