Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Covenant of Works with Adam and his posterity...

Did God make a covenant of works with mankind in Adam?

From Robert Shaw's "Reformed Faith"- a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith -

Chapter XIX. Of the Law of God Section 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. 

God having formed man an intelligent creature, and a subject of moral government, he gave him a law for the rule of his conduct. This law was founded in the infinitely righteous nature of God, and the moral relations necessarily subsisting between him and man. It was originally written on the heart of man, as he was endowed with such a perfect knowledge of his Maker’s will as was sufficient to inform him concerning the whole extent of his duty, in the whole extent of his duty, in the circumstances in which he was placed, and was also furnished with power and ability to yield all that obedience which was required of him. This is included in the moral image of God, after which man was created.—Gen. i. 27.

The law, as thus inscribed on the heart of the first man, is often styled the law of creation, because it was the will of the sovereign Creator, revealed to the reasonable creature, by impressing it upon his mind and heart at his creation. It is also called the moral law, because it was a revelation of the will of God, as his moral governor, and was the standard and rule of man’s moral actions. Adam was originally placed under this law in its natural form, as merely directing and obliging him to perfect obedience. He was brought under it in a covenant form, when an express threatening of death, and a gracious promise of life, was annexed to it; and then a positive precept was added, enjoining him not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, as the test of his obedience to the whole law.—Gen. ii. 16, 17. 

That this covenant was made with the first man, not as a single person, but as the federal representative of all his natural posterity, has been formerly shown. The law, as invested with a covenant form, is called, by the Apostle Paul, "The law of works" (Rom. iii. 27); that is, the law as a covenant of works. In this form, the law is to be viewed as not only prescribing duty, but as promising life as the reward of obedience, and denouncing death as the punishment of transgression. This law "which was ordained to life," is now become "weak through the flesh," or through the corruption of our fallen nature. It prescribes terms which we are incapable of performing; and instead of being encouraged to seek life by our own obedience to the law as a covenant, we are required to renounce all hopes of salvation in that way, and to seek it by faith in Christ. But all men are naturally under the law as a broken covenant, obnoxious to its penalty, and bound to yield obedience to its commands. The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but also for all his posterity, when he violated it, he left them all under it as a broken covenant. Most miserable, therefore is the condition of all men by nature; for "as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse."—Gal. iii. 10. Truly infatuated are they who seek for righteousness by the works of the law; for "by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God."—Rom. iii. 20.

Section 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 toward God, and the other six our duty to man. 

Upon the fall of man, the law, considered as a covenant of works, was annulled and set aside; but, considered as moral, it continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness. That fair copy of the law which had been inscribed on the heart of the first man in his creation, was, by the fall, greatly defaced, although not totally obliterated. Some faint impressions of it still remain on the minds of all reasonable creatures. Its general principles, such as, that God is to be worshipped, that parents ought to be honoured, that we should do to others what we would reasonably wish that they should do to us—such general principles as these are still, in some degree, engraved on the minds of all men. - Rom. ii. 14,15. But the original edition of the law being greatly obliterated, God was graciously pleased to give a new and complete copy of it. He delivered it to the Israelites from Mount Sinai, with awful solemnity...

It may be remarked, that the law of the ten commandments was promulgated to Israel from Sinai in the form of a covenant of works. Not that it was the design of God to renew a covenant of works with Israel, or to put them upon seeking life by their own obedience to the law; but the law was published to them as a covenant of works, to show them that without a perfect righteousness, answering to all the demands of the law, they could not be justified before God; and that, finding themselves wholly destitute of that righteousness, they might be excited to take hold of the covenant of grace, in which a perfect righteousness for their justification is graciously provided. 

The Sinai transaction was a mixed dispensation. In it the covenant of grace was published, as appears from these words in the preface standing before the commandments: "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage;" and from the promulgation of the ceremonial law at the same time. But the moral law, as a covenant of works, was also displayed, to convince the Israelites of their sinfulness and misery, to teach them the necessity of an atonement, and lead them to embrace by faith the blessed Mediator, the Seed promised to Abraham, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed. The law, therefore, was published at Sinai as a covenant of works, in subservience to the covenant of grace. And the law is still published in subservience to the gospel, as "a schoolmaster to bring sinners to Christ, that they may be justified by faith."—Gal. iii. 24.


  1. Jack,

    To me the WCF describes the "covenant of works" poorly. It is described in both 19.1 and 7.2.

    In WCF 19.1, it refers to Genesis 2, the relationship between Adam and God before the Fall, declaring that it is a covenant with Adam and his progeny, but in fact Adam's progeny is not in view in Genesis 2. This was before even Woman was made, and certainly before she was called "Eve" (mother of all living). No, the covenant made with Adam in Genesis 2 is wholly of Grace, and it precedes the "covenant of works". In Genesis 2, God provides a garden in which Adam will be protected, fed and completely comfortable, all without tilling the ground or the pain of childbirth, etc. Ironically, when WCF 19.2 comes to it's Scripture proofs, it presents Eph 4:24 which is about the new man formed of Grace. Its other references, which pertain to work, all refer to times after the Fall (Romans 2,5 and 10, Galatians 3 and Ecclesiastes 7.)

    Oddly, when WCF 7.2 describes the "covenant of works", it (the version I have) refers to both Genesis 2 and Genesis 3, as if they couldn't make up their mind. All of the other references here (Gal 3, Rom 5, Hos 6 and Rom 10) refer NOT to God's relationship with man in the Garden but rather to the relationship after man was expelled.

    I believe the so-called "covenant of works" comes AFTER the Woman is made and after their Fall from Grace when Adam first calls her "Eve" (Genesis 3:15-20). God says to them in essence, and here is the covenant which God declares (my paraphrase): "You didn't like it when I alone was honored as the Maker of the world. You wanted to be like me and make your own garden. You wanted to work as I do. Well here it is, but your inability will be demonstrated to all your progeny through your toil, struggle, pain, and inability to do good or to refrain from evil."

  2. Hudson, rather than give you my thoughts here in response see my next post of Shaw's exposition on WCF Chapter 7. Suffice to say I don't agree with your order and would say it is at odds with that of the reformers and the post-reformed generation.

  3. Those who teach Christ's law-keeping as the righteousness revealed in
    the gospel remind us that the Bible does not say "die to live" . Even
    when Jesus says lose your life in order to save your life, they
    explain, Jesus is not saying die to live. Rather, it's do and live.
    And the death of Jesus is not his doing, they claim.

    Galatians 3:10 it is s clear that no one is justified before God by
    the law, because the righteous will live by faith. 12 But the law is
    not based on faith; instead, the one who does these things will live
    by them. 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by
    becoming a curse for us

    Thus we understand that it is clear that no one is justified by
    becoming cursed or by having a Surety cursed. The righteous live by
    faith in Christ's doing the law. Christ did not only have faith for
    us. Faith does not satisfy the covenant of works. Christ did not
    only repent for us. Repentance does not satisfy the law for us.
    Christ did not only die for us. Death does not satisfy the covenant of
    works. The ones who do these things will live. Therefore, Christ did
    these things so that we could have faith not in our doing the things
    but in Christ doing the things.

    Or so we are told.
    Galatians 3:21: For if a law had been given that was able to give
    life, then righteousness would certainly be by the law

    Thus we understand that a law has been given, which if obeyed by
    Christ, gives life to Christ's elect. The righteous have no hope for
    life in Christ's death (but only the remission of sins) . The
    righteous have hope for life in Christ obeying the law, and that law
    gives life.

    Romans 7: 10 The commandment that was meant for life resulted in death for me.

    Thus we understand that the commandment was not meant to point to or
    to demand Christ's death, because life is not a result of death is meant to by obeyed and life is meant to be given
    because law is obeyed. Which is why we have no hope for life except
    Christ's keeping law be imputed to us.

    Romans 3:27 Boasting is not excluded by a law of works but only by a
    law of faith.

    Thus we understand that the law of faith is faith boasting in Christ's
    keeping the law of works, because boasting in Christ's death as curse
    would not honor the life we obtain by Christ keeping the law.

    Romans 3: 28 For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart
    from the works of the law.

    Thus we understand that a man is only justified by faith in Christ
    doing the works of the l;aw.

    Romans 3: 31 Do we then cancel the law through faith? Absolutely
    not! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

    Thus we understand that the law can never be upheld only by demanding
    death or by not giving life. Rather, we understand that the law can
    only be upheld if our faith is not in our faith or doing but also only
    if our faith is in Christ's doing the law and not in Christ's death.