Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Moses, the Law, and the Covenant of Works...

Some thoughts on the Mosaic covenant, the law as a covenant of works, and the Westminster Confession of Faith...
Of the Law of God
1. 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.
2. 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. 
Of God's Covenant with Man
2. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.
3. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second,
My thoughts:
[WCF 7] - It can be fairly said that upon the fall, the only thing that changed concerning the law was that man was no longer capable of keeping it as a covenant of works? The law as a covenant of works didn't end or change. Rather innocent man had changed and, as a sinner unable to obey, was brought under the curse of that law/covenant of works. In other words, the law/covenant remained in effect.

[WCF 19] - The moral law given to Adam was given as a covenant of works (LC 93). Upon the fall there is nothing that indicates, either in Scripture or the confession, that the law ceased to still embody the covenant of works. And there isn't anything, is there, that indicates that with the advent of the covenant of grace (protoevangelium and Abraham) that the covenant of works ended? And it was THIS law in section 2 (referring to the law as a covenant of works defined in section 1) that God delivered on Mt. Sinai and yet, though no man could fulfill it, all were and are still obliged to obey it as a perfect rule of righteousness as originally given in the garden.

Now whether one argues that God delivered the law as a rule of righteousness or that he delivered it both as a rule of righteousness and a covenant of works for pedagogical and typological reasons, it seems fair to affirm that the law after the fall was still connected to the covenant of works (LC 93) and as such was present in the Mosaic covenant.
Q. 93. What is the moral law?
A. The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul, and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.
Isn't that why, when we speak of our justification, we say that we are imputed with Christ's obedience to the law's demand/requirement for perfect obedience? It rightly can be said that we have fulfilled the covenant of works in Christ. Before the law as a covenant of works His obedience is counted as ours.

Section 2 of chapter 19 is also reinforcing the truth that God's moral law remained in force after the fall under Moses and for the New Testament church - yet for believers not as a covenant of works. This point was especially important for the Divines to emphasize given their concerns of antinomian influences in England at that time, which concerns hung over the Westminster Assembly deliberations. Also playing into the Divines' concern was the interpretation of some more radical groups who advocated that with the coming of Christ that obedience to the moral law as a rule of righteosness was no longer binding for believers.


  1. Do we know that man was capable of keeping it before man did not keep it? How do we know that? Are we assuming that God cannot or does not give commands beyond our ability, at least not before the first sin? Certainly we know that now, after sin, God's right to give a command does not depend on our ability to keep it.

    Your basic point seems to be that God's authority to command does not change after sin. That basic point does not depend on what we say about man's ability before the first sin. If indeed there had been a covenant which promised immortality based on the work of a mortal man before he sinned, there would be no reason to say that "the law as a covenant promising immortality" had changed.

    It's the "endued man with the ability to keep it" which I question. It's seems like an unnecessary speculation. Man did not keep it. Our not being able to keep it now does not eliminate the force of it. Do you think Adam's not being able to keep it would have somehow changed the reality and authority of it then?

    I mean, as long as we are speculating....

    Also,second,question, how do we know what is "ceremonial law" (and therefore no longer binding on us)? Are you saying that the "moral law" does not point to the gospel in the way that the "ceremonial law" is?

    A third question. Is there any sense in which the covenant with Abraham is also a "republication of the covenant of works"? Why would the conclusion about the Mosaic covenant not apply to the covenant with Abraham's children (not all of which are Abraham's children)? Are both the "ceremonial" and "the moral" parts of the Mosaic law a "republication of the covenant of works"?

  2. Hi Mark,
    Your basic point seems to be that God's authority to command does not change after sin.

    No. My basic point is that according to the Westminster standards, the covenant of works is part of the moral law, both before the fall and after... both under the Mosaic covenant and under the New covenant. So when some would deny a republication of the CoW in the Mosaic covenant because the law was supposedly only given as a rule of righteousness, it just doesn't wash...

  3. ok, I must take your word that the basic contrast was between those who say "only as a rule of righteousness" before and after and those who say "covenant of works, promising immortality" before and after. Have you done a study of the historical debate on this? It seems to me that there is a third position, which is to say "covenant of works" before but only "rule of righteousness" after. Of course my position is different from all three, since I deny that the Adamic law conditionally promised immortality.

    Sorry for bringing my three other questions to the table. But, as you may suspect, not all that sorry. Adam by his sin lost his ability not to sin????? Something sounds like cart before horse. But Adam did not lose his ability to sin, which he had from the beginning. And Adam did not lose his mortality, which he had from the beginning.

  4. This post was kind of a response to something written on the "Hiding Behind Kilts" post at Old Life. I was going to more or less post it there, but I wasn't really a part of the Jeff-David-Todd conversation. The "something" was that the Law given at Mt. Sinai was only given as a rule of righteousness. IMHO that doesn't jibe with the WCF nor, of course, Scripture.

    Letham's book on the Assembly and Fesko's new book make it abundantly clear that the civil strife of the years preceding and during the Assembly were chaotic as far as moral living in England. And it's pretty clear that the "fear" of antinomianism drove a number of the debate concerning law, sanctification, etc. Though learned theologians, they were just men and we must take into account their historical context in order to understand why certain things were included or emphasized in the Standards.

  5. Amen. Written in Christendom for the sake of Christendom, I thought Fesko could have said more about that in his new book. But then again, I always think there is more to be said about the evils of Christendom. It's not merely excommuncation from the covenant into Rhode Island but bombing Hiroshima....

  6. Mark, Hiroshima? Your political skirt is showing...


  7. Robert Strimple--"The Westminster Confession says that the moral law that God gave to Adam as a covenant of works is the “very same law” that continues to be a perfect rule of righteousness for us; and it was that law that was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai” But 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 may not be what some on our faculty would like it to teach. But it is what the Confession teaches."

    theonomist George Gillespie---If The analogy betwixt the Jewish & the Christian church faile, the argument of Baptisme from circumcision will faile also…The state of the Jewish church is y a warrantableness for the analogy of the Old Testament & New. If we must cut loose the argument of the Jewish church, how shall we prove pedo-Baptism?

    1. I think Strimple gets it wrong. If "this law" is only a "rule of righteousness"after the fall (19.2) then why do the Divines determine it as necessary to cite the exception that believers are not under the moral law as a convent of work in 19.6? Also, the Savoy and London Baptist, which see the Mosaic as a containing the covenant of works as regarding the nation and the temporal blessings and curses, both use the same language in the beginning of 19.6 as the WCF.

  8. One of these quotations does not agree with the other one.

    Scott Clark---Even though there were typological (land) and even national elements in the promises given to Abraham (Gen 12 and 15) they were only temporary expressions of the more fundamental promise to send a Savior.


    Scott Clark--- The national, Israelite, Sinaitic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, was a temporary addition, a codicil, added to the Abrahamic promises. That temporary national covenant expired with the death of Christ. Paul reckons the old covenant as a temporary, national, pedagogical, typological arrangement SUPERIMPOSED UPON the Abrahamic covenant of grace.

    1. Not sure what you're getting at. Why not ask Clark since they are his words.