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Report of the Committee to Study Republication

Presented to the Eighty-third (2016) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

General Assembly reports are thoughtful and weighty treatises on important matters but they are not constitutional documents. Only the Confession of Faith and Catechisms, the Form of Government, the Book of Discipline, and the Directory for the Public Worship of God of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church express the church’s official understanding of what the Word of God teaches.


Contents

Mandate

Introduction

PART I – THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS AND COVENANT THEOLOGY

      Ch. 1 – Substance and Administration
      Ch. 2 – Typology and Confessional Interpretation
      Ch. 3 – Law and Covenant
      Ch. 4 – Merit and Mediator

PART II – VIEWS OF REPUBLICATION

      Ch. 5 – Taxonomy of Views
      Ch. 6 – Strengths and Weaknesses of the Various Views
      Ch. 7 – M. G. Kline as Advocate of a Version of Substantial Republication
      Ch. 8 – M. G. Kline as Advocate of a Version of Administrative Republication
      
Ch. 9 – M. G. Kline: Strengths and Weaknesses

PART III – CONCLUSIONS

      Conclusion
      Recommendations
      Topics for the Examination of Candidates

Glossary

Action by the 83rd GA concerning the Report

Mandate

The 81st General Assembly, in response to an overture from the Presbytery of the Northwest, elected a study committee “to examine and give its advice as to whether and in what particular senses the concept of the Mosaic Covenant as a republication of the Adamic Covenant is consistent with the doctrinal system taught in the confessional standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” The men who were elected to this committee are Messrs. Bryan D. Estelle, Benjamin W. Swinburnson (Secretary), Lane G. Tipton, A. Craig Troxel (Chairman), and Chad V. Van Dixhoorn. The committee subsequently met on July 16, 2014 (by phone) and then on Sept. 17–18, 2014 (Wheaton, IL), Dec. 3–5, 2014 (Washington D.C.), Mar. 16–18, 2015 (Philadelphia, PA), May 18–20, 2015 (Wheaton, IL), Aug. 14–17, 2015 (Seattle, WA), Dec. 2–4, 2015 (Washington D.C.), Feb. 24, 2016 (by phone), Mar. 14–16, 2016 (Escondido, CA) and March 30, 2016 (by phone).

Introduction

Describing the function and role of the Mosaic covenant in relation to the covenant of works and in relation to the New Testament revelation is arguably one of the most challenging and complex theological problems in which one can engage. From the beginning your committee has recognized the difficulty of the assignment set before it and the constant temptation to address one or another issue that is tangential rather than touching the very core of our mandate, especially since the doctrine of republication cuts across many theological disciplines: lexical semantics, exegesis of biblical texts, systematic theology, historical theology, and church history. One thing has stood out to your committee: this theological issue is complex.

On the one hand it may seem that the mandate of the committee is merely one of confessional exegesis. It certainly involves this, and your committee has taken pains to work with and comment upon every area of the standards that is relevant to the mandate. On the other hand, the committee has also worked on numerous passages of Scripture, especially since the very confession we were tasked to study states quite clearly that “in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them [i.e., the Scriptures]” (WCF 1.8).

In your committee’s view, the Westminster standards speak to many but not all the issues raised. To cite only one example, in the Larger Catechism the members of the Westminster Assembly showed little interest in demonstrating how Old Testament works typologically point to Christ in detail, a topic of particular interest in recent research and debate.[1] This silence means that some issues swirling around the topic of republication are “extra-confessional.”

I. Why the Discussion?

Briefly stated, the doctrine of republication is the concept that the covenant of works is in some sense echoed in the Mosaic covenant at Sinai with the people of God.[2] The words “in some sense” are chosen, not to equivocate, but to acknowledge that the covenant of works was a unique, unrepeatable administration of a covenant. Just as reflective surfaces in nature echo sound (like mountains and caves), so also in literature there are intentional, rebounding, serial echoes of major themes and motifs.[3] How much more is this the case in redemptive history, where the divine author works through the human author to teach and remind readers of various doctrines. The echoes of Adam, and Eden, and the covenant of works are so loud throughout Scripture that they call for explanation.

Both sides of the controversy see their formulations of the Mosaic covenant strengthening Reformed doctrine. Critics of republication have alleged that other officers in the church are in error with regard to their teachings on this subject, deviating from the Reformed tradition. Many current advocates of the doctrine of republication claim it is integrally connected to the work of salvation since the Lord Jesus Christ came under the Mosaic law, carrying out his work as the last Adam and as the faithful Son of Israel by fulfilling the terms of the law perfectly. Unfortunately, sometimes the previous claim has been expressed in such a way that it leaves the other side wondering whether their doctrine of justification is as robust as it should be. Furthermore, advocates of republication have claimed that an appreciation for republication provides enrichment for the church’s understanding of her Savior’s work. Nevertheless, there has long been varying assessment of republication in the Reformed community.

Consider just two examples. Charles Hodge (1797–1898) held to the system of doctrine in the Westminster standards and yet he described the law of Moses as a re-enactment of the covenant of works.[4] Conversely, Professor John Murray (1898–1975) disagreed with the doctrine of republication, as seen in his words: “The view that in the Mosaic covenant there was a repetition of the so-called covenant of works, current among covenant theologians, is a grave misconception.”[5] And yet, Murray recognized that the doctrine was commonplace among Post-Reformation thinking and that it “has exercised a profound influence upon the history of interpretation and it had cast its shadow over the exegesis of particular passages.”[6]

How can two stalwart teachers in the Reformed world hold such different opinions with regard to the covenant God made with Moses? By the end of our report, we expect that sympathetic readers will have gained a greater appreciation for some of the answers to this question.

Returning to the present, however, there seem to be a few primary reasons for the very real differences that exist on the subject. No doubt, some of the present disagreements have been occasioned by a resurgence of writings on the doctrine of republication, which have brought a new level of discussion and debate to the church on this matter.[7] Another reason may be the increased reliance on the internet for assessments of current theological debates. The language used online is often intemperate and has come to infect much of the discourse on the subject.

In the present context, the church would do well to remember that in all disputes we are to pursue the purity, peace and unity of the church. No side of this triangle must be ignored. Charity must infuse all debate, even as purity of doctrine is sought.

Nevertheless, moments of theological conflict present an opportunity for clarification, charity, growth, and development for all concerned. The members of your study committee have sought to emulate the Apostle Paul’s words by making “the aim of our charge love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). The Apostle’s well-chosen words occur in the context of upbraiding some who claimed to be teachers of the law but were actually without understanding, causing some measure of discord within the church. At the same time, we have not ignored difficult issues in this report; we have sought to inform our discourse with mature reflection, serious engagement, and above all, charity. We have taken pains to present the views described in this report in a fair and equitable manner. In order for readers to do the same, we recommend that it be read carefully from beginning to end in order to discern the flow of the arguments in the descriptions it contains. Your committee has deliberately organized it with such a view in mind, and it is in this context that we present our conclusions and recommendations to presbyteries.

Disagreement can be a great achievement. Yet, whenever there are theological debates, terminological precision can go a long way towards avoiding miscommunication. We have included a glossary at the end of this report in order to aid the reader, and throughout this report, the committee will take pains to define terms precisely, beginning with the term central to this report: republication.

II. What Is “Republication”?

Republication is the notion that the covenant of works is in some sense echoed in the Mosaic covenant at Sinai. There are many different understandings of republication. For some, central to republication is the declarative notion of the law given at Sinai condemning sinners and leading the elect to Christ. Other understandings of republication accent the parallels between Adam, Israel, and Christ (Lk 3:38; Exod. 4:22–24; Lk 1:35). Additional views of republication that have occasioned the current debate in the church are described below in the report.

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.[8] It has also been used to understand patterns and parallels between Adam, Israel and Christ. Some views of republication may not be described as re-enactive and some views see the Mosaic covenant as more than merely re-enactive. For example, Charles Hodge thought that the Mosaic economy was not only “a re-enactment of the covenant of works,” but also a national covenant; he nonetheless maintained that salvation was only by faith, not works.[9]

It is important to emphasize that there are clear differences between the pre-fall covenant and the post-fall covenant with Israel. For example, since the fall, there is ultimately only one perfect mediator between God and humankind, the Lord Jesus Christ. The pre-fall covenantal administration is not simply repeated. M. G. Kline did not hold this nor do other proponents of republication who will be discussed below. Jesus is the only Redeemer, Savior, and Mediator, and the sonship of Jesus is unique in contrast with the sonship of Israel in Scripture. It is basic to this report that the church maintain the proper distinctions between Israel (the typological son) and Christ (the true son).

Although self-evident, it bears repeating that there are many distinctions between Israel as a typological son (either corporately, or individually as in the case of the king) and Christ as the true Son of God, who is categorically unique in his person and work. For example, Israel is never called nationally to be a mediator, to remedy sin as a substitute, or to impute righteousness to those demonstrating faith by grace. That is the call of Christ alone. Nevertheless, there are types, shadows, and symbols in the wonderfully rich tapestry of Israel’s history that provide all that is necessary for moving from the type to the antitype. Jesus is the only redeemer of God’s elect, the ultimate mediator between God and his people, the second Adam, and the Son of God. In some sense Israel’s history recapitulated Adam’s experience, and in some sense Jesus’ ministry recapitulated Israel’s history. The great difference is that where Adam and Israel failed, Jesus prevailed.

Consequently, two requirements must be satisfied for our rescue from sin: someone must obey the law and he must receive the curse of the law. What sinful man could not do, Christ Jesus has done as our probation keeper and penalty payer.[10] We know that Christ was obedient to the law as the last Adam, in fulfillment of the covenant of works. This is especially clear from Romans 5 where the instrumentality of Adam and Christ are compared. Whereas Adam brought about sin and death, Christ reversed the effects of Adam’s high-handed sin. In Rom 5:12, Paul sets up the comparison, “By the sin of the one the many died.” Paul initially leaves this comparison unfinished in 5:12; however, he returns to it later in the same section (5:15–21) explaining the comparison between the acts of Adam and Christ (after the parenthesis in 5:13–14). Indeed, in 5:18 Paul confirms the full, balanced statement of the comparison between the figures of Adam and Christ: the one man Jesus Christ has secured, through his obedience, the promises Paul wrote about in Rom 5:1–11.

III. What Is Typology and Symbol?

Already in this introduction we have found repeated reason to mention typology. Typology, or symbol, is an area

that is particularly germane to current debates surrounding republication. 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.

In other words, typology teaches that OT events, individuals, many of the laws of Israel, Israel’s religious practices and the nation itself looked beyond for their ultimate fulfillment and interpretation. In a very real and profound sense, when we study the history of Israel, we see that she was not behind the times but was actually ahead of her time.[11]

Typology is intimately related to symbol.[12] Symbols in Scripture should be the gateway to appropriate typological method and practice. However, in the practice of biblical interpretation throughout church history, symbols were often inappropriately wrested from their material moorings. Historical essences and legitimate external references of words to phenomena outside the text were left behind when the biblical text was seen to emphasize spiritual meanings or alleged deeper meanings. The wings of the human imagination lifted various and sometimes ungrounded abstract meanings from the moorings of earthly, real phenomena and hence from the reality of the biblical text itself. Since our confession directly comments on typology it will be discussed below at various points in the report.

Typological exegesis has been under serious attack since the Enlightenment. Hijacked by “free range allegory,” typological meanings and senses of Scripture seemed fanciful and exaggerated to post-Enlightenment sensibilities, as if there were no textually grounded and historical controls in typology (as there are none in allegory). This dissecting tendency devastated the story and plot structure of the Scriptures, as Geerhardus Vos so clearly pointed out years ago.

IV. Need for Terminological Distinctions: What Is Merit?

The topic of merit has always proven controversial in theological discussions. Indeed, there has been a long and protracted debate about the use of this term such terms in Western theology. The same is true in this recent intramural debate on republication within our own church.

Nonetheless, some things are clear. No sinful human being can merit salvation or forgiveness from God, or satisfy the righteous demands of God’s law with personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience after the fall (Rom 3:23; Eph 2:1–10; WCF 16.5; 19.1–2). Christ’s merit alone is sufficient for that end according to our confession. 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. Both were works that can be included under the rubric of merit, properly defined.

The question of the good works of believers will be considered in our report. The WCF states clearly that the “good” works of believers, albeit imperfect, are wrought by the Spirit and accepted in the covenant of grace in Christ (WCF 16.5–6). We must affirm this as a primary principle in any discussion of the good works of believers, which in turn touches on the issue of both merit and typology. “Good works” produced by the self-effort of humans apart from or antecedent to God’s grace do not exist (contra Pelagian, semi-Pelagian, or Roman Catholic qualifications). This too will be discussed below.

There is no doubt that at the time of the Westminster Assembly many were aware of the long prehistory of the words and phrases used to express different kinds of merit. For example, the Assembly divines were aware of specific criteria of a definition of merit, which may be called proper, as discussed in Chapter 4.

Another concept of merit, especially relevant with respect to Adam’s probation, is the notion of ex pacto merit.[13] 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).”[14] In other words, Adam could merit eternal life because God said so.

Since the relationship of the covenant of works to the Mosaic covenant is such a significant part of our mandate, this is one issue that we will address in light of the subject of merit. It seems to the committee that Chapter 7 of the WCF permits one to use the language of grace to describe the pre-fall situation; not redemptive grace, but in a more general manner or for other reasons—even as it was commonplace in the seventeenth century to do. Nevertheless, the Westminster Confession does not invoke the category of grace to explain Adam’s pre-fall state, but God’s voluntary condescension (WCF 7.1). This may be a deliberate choice in light of shifting paradigms of the time. However, it is also permissible to use the language of merit in order to describe the possibility of Adam’s obedience in the covenant of works (and perhaps it is even wise this side of Karl Barth, the Federal Vision proponents, and uncritical advocates of the New Perspective on Paul). Seventeenth-century Reformed theologian Johannes Braun did so, as did the Dutch Reformed theologian Salomon Van Til (1643–1713).[15]

Both parties can affirm WCF 7.1 wholeheartedly (on the issue of grace or merit before the fall). There is room for further reflection and dialogue on this point over which hearty and brotherly discourse may occur.

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

A. Broadly Considered

A fourth phrase commonly associated with the discussion of republication is the “works principle.” When defining the works principle, it is first important to distinguish it from what it is not. It is not identical to the idea of retribution as discussed in biblical studies. Retribution can be stated simply as the notion that God rewards the good that men do and punishes their evil. In 1955, Klaus Koch published an essay that made the issue of retribution a major focus in OT wisdom literature studies and other aspects of OT studies as well.[16] Koch’s seminal and influential essay and those that responded to it called the identified phenomena the “act-consequence nexus.” It has also been observed that this discussion has ramifications for the whole of Scripture, including the OT and the NT. It is true that the discussion of retribution has an overlapping relationship with the works principle under examination. Nevertheless, a works principle, broadly and strictly conceived as it relates to republication, is not merely a discussion about the retributive principle found in the Scriptures.

Broadly defined, a works principle is merely communicating obligations with sanctions. Such a principle is seen clearly in the covenant of works (Gen 2:16–17). This principle, or something like it, has also been observed in the Mosaic covenant. As Geerhardus Vos stated, “The covenant with Israel served in an emphatic manner to recall the strict demands of the covenant of works.”[17] This law really did carry the content of the covenant of works “as made serviceable for a particular period of the covenant of Grace.”[18] Although obeying such a demand was unattainable for Israelites since they (like all humans after the fall) were only able to sin, it does not negate that there was a real operative works principle in the old covenant.[19] Indeed, such a broadly defined works principle is introduced in many places in the law, in many of the cultic rituals, and in the cultic precepts that God gave Israel to perform.

If the Mosaic law does introduce a works principle, it has direct application to the merit and ministry of Christ our Savior. 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. Christ did fulfill the righteousness of the law (Matt 3:15; 5:17–29; Rom 3:21–22, 31; 5:12–21; 8:4; etc.). Moreover, it was the curse of the law that Christ took upon himself (Gal 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21), and this he did for the elect, “the just for the unjust” (1 Pet 3:18). Thanks be to God that he performed this work as the guarantor and mediator of a new and better covenant (Heb 7:22; 8:6; 9:14–15)!

The Apostle Paul clearly speaks in Galatians 4 about this works principle that our Savior performed.[20] Paul reminds his readers succinctly of Christ’s redemptive work in the Gospel: Christ was born “under the law” (Gal 4:4), the very estate from which we Christians have been redeemed and to which estate the Apostle insists that we must not return (Gal 4:21; Rom 6:14–15). Therefore, the condition under which Christ voluntarily put himself was one which put him under the curse of the law (Gal 3:10, 13); one in which he must do the law (Gal 3:12); and one in which he must perform all the requirements of the law by perfectly obeying it (Gal 5:3–4). This he did, as Gal 4:5 says, in order to accomplish two purposes: in order “to redeem those under law, [and] that we might receive the full rights of sons.” Paul has no desire to disparage the law of God. Quite the contrary. Nor does he mean that the law is contrary to the grace of the Gospel. As the WCF says, the uses of the law “do sweetly comply with it.”[21]

Rather, Paul’s point in the above passages from Galatians teach that our Savior fulfills the conditions introduced through the law in order to merit blessings on behalf of his elect.[22] This is integrally related to notions of republication. If the Bible communicates that the covenant at creation in the garden (covenant of works) was a covenant in which God assigned a stipulated work to Adam as the representative head of the human race with the promise of a reward upon the condition of performance of that work, and if creation precedes redemption, then law must be the foundation of any biblical covenantal system. The upshot of this Scriptural use of the works principle for Christ’s merit is that the forensic foundation of our salvation is upheld.

Although Adam was created upright, he had not yet reached the highest estate possible: not being able to sin (“incorruptible”, cf. 1 Cor 15:50–54). Adam was obligated not to sin in his role in the garden. But he was also to render positive righteousness in order to win God’s approval. As the first representative, that was Adam’s role in the garden. Yet Adam failed. As the second representative, an analogous role was given to Christ through his whole life, and in a heightened way at its end. Christ prevailed. Christ alone, as the second Adam, paid the price for sin and obeyed God’s law by perfectly fulfilling the stipulations necessary for the blessing of union and communion with a holy God. This grounds our confidence in and before our God. In short, the Apostle Paul sees the obedience of Christ in terms of the fulfillment of the works principle introduced in the Mosaic law (cf. Rom 3:31; 10:4; Gal 4:4).

B. Narrowly Considered

Some theologians with sympathies for republication speak of a works principle in a more specific sense, with reference to external blessings. They recognize that in no way was a works principle connected with the individual salvation of the Israelite. Rather, they are wrestling with biblical passages that attach sanctions with the enjoyment of the nation’s theocratic standing, especially Israel’s tenure in the land, or their exile from the Promised Land (cf. Deut 28, Lev 26).[23] Still others, proponents of republication (e.g., M. G. Kline), consider the works principle as more strictly typological. In other words, there are obligations with sanctions here as well; however, the works principle is still considered typological.

These constructions are not a denial of the classic Augustinian and Reformed positions regarding categories of merit and the impotence of fallen human beings and their ability to perform the works of the law. Rather, the view expressed is that in some sense God gave the Mosaic law in part to take Israel through a recapitulation of Adam’s experience under a covenant of works. This view suggests that the Mosaic law provides a perfect framework in which the Son of God could come and fulfill his work, making legible his perfect fulfillment of the works principle that governed “the Father’s Covenant of Works with the Son.”[24] This will be discussed at length below under the sections covering Kline’s biblical theology.

VI. What Is the Answer?

This introduction has tried to orient the reader to the body of the report. We attempted to address the circumstances surrounding the present debate over this teaching, and noted the recent increase in publications on this topic. We also tried to address fairly other factors that have precipitated the controversy present in the church, including an increase in the use of social media. Finally, we have introduced a number of major topics that will be covered in greater detail in subsequent pages.

In the three parts of this report that follow, we first consider the teaching of our confessional standards on the issues raised in our mandate. In the second part we explore the history of views on our subject, with special attention to readings of Meredith Kline. The tempo of our discussion slows markedly in our chapters on Kline given his pivotal importance to dialogue on covenant theology within the Reformed community. (Both of these parts of our report contain frequent reflections on the teaching of Scripture, but do not attempt to make an exegetical case for or against various conceptions of republication, which we did not understand to be our remit as a committee). The brief finale of the report moves abruptly from legato to staccato: we summarize conclusions, make recommendations, and, suggest for the use of presbyteries relevant topics to be considered in the examination of candidates for licensure and ordination.

Part I – The Westminster Standards and Covenant Theology

Ch. 1 – Substance and Administration

I. Defining Terms

A. “Covenant”

This foundational chapter seeks to manage the first part of this report by establishing a roster of key terms and offering definitions for each term that we will seek to apply consistently in the following chapters. We begin with “covenant” and “law.” Rather than providing an overarching definition of “covenant” the Westminster standards describe two kinds of covenants, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. [25] This is because the two differ in nature, particularly in their federal heads and in what they require. They differ in their federal heads in that Adam was the federal head in the covenant of works and Christ is the federal head in the covenant of grace. They differ in their requirements or conditions since the covenant of works required “personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience,” whereas the covenant of grace requires faith in Christ (WCF 19.1; 7.2,3). They also differ in their pledges. In the covenant of works God gave Adam and Eve the tree of life as a pledge of eternal life, should they pass their probation test (LC 22). In the covenant of grace God places the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers as a guarantee of their future inheritance and the fullness of their redemption (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13; 4:30). The sacraments also function as God’s pledges to the believer since they not only signify the grace of God, but through them the Holy Spirit seals the promises of God to their hearts.[26]

Yet one assumption they share in common is that which is foundational to all covenant theology: the Creator-creature distinction. How can there be fellowship or any covenant relationship between man and his Creator except by God’s “voluntary condescension” to him (WCF 7.1)? He must descend to us; we cannot ascend to him. Thus, it is God who entered into a “covenant of life” with our race, and this through a “special act of providence” (WCF 4.2; LC 17,20; SC 12).[27]

B. “Law”

The “law” is used variously in our confessional standards, and with three different nuances. It is used redemptive-historically, to refer to the Mosaic covenant in general, and to refer to one of the three aspects of the Mosaic law in particular—the moral law, the ceremonial law, and the civil law.

1. Redemptive-historical. The standards distinguish how the covenant of grace was administered “in the time of the law” or “under the law” as compared to “the time of the gospel” (WCF 7.5). In the same paragraph, it states that God “delivered to the people of the Jews” this covenant by way of “promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances.” The confession also notes the redemptive-historical context of the judicial and ritual laws, by highlighting that the civil law is tethered to Israel “as a body politic” or as a unique “State”; and it says that the “ceremonial” law was given to Israel “as a church under age” (WCF 19.4,3). Also, that same chapter teaches that if a person is performing good works it does not mean he or she is “under the law; and, not under grace” (WCF 19.6). That sentence references Rom. 6:15, which refers to a particular stage of redemptive history, not to the moral law (which is the chief concern of WCF 19.6).

2. Mosaic covenant in general. The standards refer to the era of the law (or, “the old testament”) as the administration of sacrifices, ceremonies, and types (WCF 19.5). By referring to the types and ordinances of the old covenant, the standards are referring to the “Torah,” the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses; or, to the Mosaic administration as a whole (“Sinaitic administration,” “Mosaic covenant,” “Mosaic economy”).[28]

3. Mosaic law in particulars. “Law” also can refer to the classical threefold distinction of the Mosaic law given to Israel in its moral, ceremonial, and civil capacities. The civil law pertained to the judicial order of Israel as a state and it expired with the theocracy (WCF 19.4). The ceremonial law is that which regulated the sacrificial system, priesthood, and purification laws of Israel, all of which is now abrogated since it was fulfilled by Christ (WCF 19.3). The moral law reflects God’s holy will and it continues as a “perfect rule of righteousness” for all humanity, whether under the law or under the gospel (WCF 19.2; LC 93; SC 40). It is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments revealed through Moses, which in turn are summed up in the two great commandments as stated by Christ (Matt. 5:17–19; 22:37–40; WCF 19:2; LC 98,102, 122; SC 41,42).

II. Covenant of Grace: Substance and Administration

A. Substance

When it comes to the covenant of grace, John Ball’s famous statement summarizes the overall principle well: “For manner of administration this Covenant is divers, as it pleased God in sundry manners to dispense it: but for substance it is one, the last, unchangeable and everlasting.”[29]

The confessional standards assume that the covenant of grace is one and the same substance no matter where it is found in redemptive history. Despite the differences between the Mosaic economy and the Gospel age, they both share the same covenantal substance: “There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations” (WCF 7.6). In short, there are not two ways of salvation, “but one way, that of grace.”[30]

What is that substance? According to our doctrinal standards the substance of the covenant of grace is Christ. The covenant was fulfilled “under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited” (WCF 7.6). Christ supplies the substance (or blessings) of the covenant of grace due to the dignity of his person and the merit of his work. Regarding his person, the Confession of Faith places significant emphasis on the hypostatic union—the full endowment of his divine glory inseparably joined to the integrity of a full human nature (as well as the anointing of his human nature by the Holy Spirit). Regarding his work, the standards expound the benefits purchased by the perfection of his obedience, the satisfaction of his substitutionary death, and the vindication of his exaltation, which fulfill all righteousness and satisfy everything necessary for the salvation of his people (WCF 8.5). From this vast treasury Christ supplies endless blessings and an eternal inheritance to his people in all ages.

These confessional assertions are grounded in Scripture. WCF 7.6 looks to Gal 3:8–9,14,16, which state that God “preached the gospel beforehand” to Abraham (v.8), that the blessing of Abraham came to the Gentiles “in Christ Jesus” (v.14), and that the promises were made to Abraham and his offspring, “who is Christ” (v.16). Christ is the substance in both God’s promise to Abraham and to his offspring who are justified by faith. The confession also cites Rom 10:6–10, and in verses 6–7 Paul says: “But the righteousness based on faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?”’ (that is, to bring Christ down), ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?”’(that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” Paul is expounding Deut 30:12,13—words originally spoken by Moses in his exhortation to Israel to obey the commandments of the Lord and not to excuse ignorance of them. Paul shows that Moses’ exhortation is ultimately fulfilled by and in Christ, the one we confess (Rom 10:9).

Whether we are speaking of the types and pictures of Christ in the old covenant or the reality and fullness of Christ in the new, what is applied to God’s elect, in principle, is the same. Although the ceremonies, sacrifices, and ordinances of the Mosaic covenant were types of Christ, the efficacy of what they pictured was communicated through them to the elect of Israel. As the confession states: “Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world: being yesterday and to-day the same, and for ever” (WCF 8.6).

Israel was a church under age. Nevertheless, in that age those who looked in faith to God’s promised Savior were strengthened in their faith, enjoyed the forgiveness of sins, and shared in the hope of eternal life (WCF 7.5). The ordinances and types given to Israel were God’s ordained means by which the Spirit communicated Christ and his benefits to them. In and of themselves the sacrifices and the “sacraments” of the old covenant were not sufficient or efficacious for salvation. As Scripture says, the “gifts and sacrifices” of the Mosaic covenant “cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper” and that age was “set aside because of its weakness and uselessness” for “the law made nothing perfect” (Heb 7:18–19; 9:9). And yet the sacrifices and symbols given in that covenantal administration, “were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah” (WCF 7.5). Those who walked by faith under the law received the same spiritual nourishment as those under the Gospel. They “partook of the same spiritual rock” and “that rock is Christ” (1 Cor 10:1–4). They participated in all the benefits of Christ and experienced every blessing in the order of salvation, just as the new covenant believer does. However, the old covenant believer did not receive these blessings in the same manner, nor in the fullness as the new covenant believers does. They experienced the same things, but not to the same degree. After all, the covenant of grace is differently administered.

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. For example, Zacharias Ursinus argues that the “substance of the covenant” is “the principal conditions” of the covenant.[31] The covenant of grace is one in substance because in each covenant “God promises to those that repent and believe, the remission of sins; whilst men bind themselves, on the other hand, to exercise faith in God, and to repent of their sins.”[32] John Ball explained that the “essence of the Covenant properly consisteth in the Promise and stipulation.”[33] Francis Turretin states the same thing when he refers to the “substance and essential parts of the covenant, i.e., both as to the covenanted themselves and as to the federal pact consisting in the mutual obligation of the parties.”[34] Speaking of the covenants of works and grace, Thomas Blake points out that the difference between them is “brought to height” when we consider the “conditions annext unto either of them.” In his view, a change of the condition “alone so diversifies them; that they are not barely, in circumstance and way of administration, but in substance two distinct covenants.”[35] Therefore the “Old covenant entered with the Jewes, and the New Covenant entered with Christians” are “one and the same in substance” because “a covenant entered by the same parties, upon the same terms and propositions on either hand, is the same covenant.”[36]

The confession seems to communicate this basic idea when it states that the Old and New Testament are not “two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.”[37] This involves the idea that the old and new covenants have the same essential promises on God’s part, and the same essential obligations on the part of elect. These mutual covenantal obligations are helpfully summarized in WCF 7.5: on the part of the elect, this covenant involves “faith in the promised Messiah,” along with the bestowal of “full remission of sins and eternal salvation” on the part of God. Thus, WCF 7.6 highlights Gen. 15:6 (which states that Abraham “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness”) and its subsequent treatment in Rom 4:16–17,23–24, where Paul says that these words were written for our sake, for those—who like Abraham—place their faith in God’s promise of grace.

There are some historic presentations of the Mosaic covenant which hold that although it is different in substance from the covenant of grace, it does not institute a new way of salvation. As chapter five will explain, both the “subservient covenant” position and the position of historic Lutheranism are examples of this.[38] 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.

B. Administration

There is both unity and diversity in the covenant of grace. 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). The confession addresses these differences by the way in which the covenant itself is administered, and by the way in which the blessings of the covenant are enjoyed. It does this by organizing these two issues through its unified treatment and emphasis on typology: “This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come ...” (WCF 7.5).

The covenant of grace was administered in the time of the law “by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances.” The phrase, “other types and ordinances” shows that typology functions as a general rubric to summarize the symbols and ordinances of the old covenant. The standards remind us that those types were “sufficient and efficacious” for the time of the law and by them believing Israelites enjoyed the “full remission of sins, and eternal salvation” (WCF 7.5). Yet this is true only because they were more than symbols for that covenant administration. They also functioned as types of the fullness to be unveiled with Christ’s coming. Their ultimate efficacy is dependent upon their functioning as types. The tabernacle, ritual sacrifices, priesthood, mercy seat, annual feasts and the Sabbath were the means by which God communicated the spiritual realities, which they pre-figured. But the level to which that substance could be received was not the same. This is the nature of the case with types. The type comes “on a lower stage of development in redemption,” and its anti-type comes later “on a higher stage.”[39] Continuity relates them, degree distinguishes them.

On the one hand this means that the spiritual power communicated through the old covenant was mitigated due to its typological means of grace. The ceremonial laws and their ordinances were intended as provisional means of God’s grace because they were given to Israel, “as a church under age” (WCF 19.3). This fits with the overall design of the law as a “guardian until Christ came,” managing the under-aged child until the appropriate time of full sonship arrived (Gal 4:2–4). Under the law the covenant of grace remains immature and undeveloped. By design the ritual laws prefigured Christ and his benefits, so that when he fulfilled them they had to be abrogated. On the other hand this means that the believer who lives on this side of Christ’s death and resurrection, and Pentecost, enjoys fuller blessings than the believer in the time of the law. Christ is “held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy” under the Gospel (WCF 7.6). Believers in the new covenant have greater boldness, greater freedom, and greater communications of the Spirit than those under the law:

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the Gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin; the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law. But under the new testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of. (WCF 20.1)

When our doctrinal standards compare the covenant of grace in its two administrations, they are only reflecting Scripture itself. The book of Hebrews details how Christ has inaugurated a “better covenant” through the new covenant, which speaks a “better word” with its “better sacrifices” and “better promises,” and offers a “better hope” and a “better possession” as compared to the old (Heb 7:19,22; 8:6; 9:23; 10:34; 12:24).[40] The priestly ministry of Christ in the new covenant makes the old covenant “obsolete,” and “what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8:13). Similarly, Paul states that the glory of the older administration dims when compared to the glory of the new, which far surpasses it. He likens the Mosaic covenant to a “ministry of death” or “ministry of condemnation” which gives way to the “ministry of the Spirit” or “the ministry of righteousness” (2 Cor 3:7–11). This same agenda is found in the wording of the prologue to the Gospel of John when it states that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The point is not that grace and truth were nowhere to be found in the Mosaic covenant and that the gospel age is devoid of law.[41] The point is one of comparison. The grace and truth revealed by Jesus far surpasses that which was revealed to Moses. What Moses heard and proclaimed, Jesus embodied and realized.

The church’s doctrinal standards reflect this delicate biblical balance—the balance of holding in harmony the same substance along with the different administrations of the covenant of grace. Believers in the age of the law are truly brothers and sisters with those in the age of the gospel. They both partake of Christ and his benefits. Nevertheless, those united to Christ since his appearing enjoy his benefits more fully. It is as if Christ says to believers in the Gospel age: “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt 13:16–17).

Ch. 2 – Typology and Confessional Interpretation

I. Typology

An important, but indirect way of addressing the question [of republication] is to consider how our confession views typology, for those who hold to a republication of the covenant of works in some sense tend to see a more expansive than limited understanding of typology in the Mosaic economy.

There can be no question that our confessional standards affirm that various features of the Mosaic economy have a typological purpose, including “promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances” (WCF 7.5; see LC 34).

And yet for the most part, our confessional standards do little to develop or expound a typology of offices, persons, places, events, corporate Israel, or the moral law in the Mosaic economy, especially as those types might relate to Christ. The standards assume something about the typology of office. Perhaps they imply something about old covenant persons when they reflect on Christ as prophet, priest and king (WCF 8.1; LC 42–45, SC 23–26). If not the typology of place, at least the symbolic significance of place in the old covenant is affirmed, indirectly and negatively, in WCF 21.6, where we are told that “now under the gospel” the place where one prays has no significance. Additionally, in explicating the preface to the Ten Commandments, the Larger Catechism appears to ascribe a typological significance to the event of the Exodus, to the nation of Israel, and perhaps to Egypt (LC 101). Nonetheless, there is little positive explication of these biblical theological commonplaces.

The more involved question is what the assembly intended by “other types and ordinances,” mentioned in WCF 7.5. It seems possible that the proof texts that the assembly supplies may offer some clues about the “other types and ordinances” referenced by the authors of the Confession and Larger Catechism. The original scriptural texts in support of Westminster Confession of Faith 7.5 and Larger Catechism 34 reference not only circumcision, unleavened bread, and the paschal lamb (Rom 4:11; Col 2:11–12; 1 Cor 5:7), but also the Red Sea crossing as baptism, the Rock-fountain as Christ, and the forward-looking faith that Abraham and others placed in Christ and his promises (1 Cor 10:1–4; Heb 11:13; John 8:56). Citations for WCF 8.3 further comment on the typological significance of Abel and Aaron (Heb 5:4–5, 12:24). We ought to add the larger-than-life signification ascribed to the woman, the seed and the serpent in WCF 8.6 (citing, of course, Gen 3:15). What is more, the assembly, as further support of WCF 7.5 and LC 34, refers readers to the whole of Heb 8–10, passages that reflect deeply on the temple, the priestly office, and Christ as high priest.

Do these passages, however, suggest anything specific about other types and ordinances? Not really. It is a commonplace that post-Reformation divines reflected on the typology of Hebrews; but these citations, so broad in scope, do not suggest any particular typological positions or commitments. This point is significant because republication 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. The Westminster standards have little to say on these subjects beyond a reference in WCF 19.3 to corporate Israel as a “church under age.” 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).

But might the nomenclature of sacrifice and the proof texts supplied by the assembly for WCF 7.5 plausibly point to priestly work as a kind of active obedience (in distinction from the sacrifice itself as a type of passive obedience)? Might the specific case of priestly obedience, and Israel’s participation in and cooperation with that obedience, offer evidence of an active works principle in the Mosaic economy? To answer this question we have turned to assembly-member-produced literature that discusses the active obedience of Christ and have come up dry. Discussions of active obedience, or ‘whole obedience,’ tend to focus either on defending the imputation of Christ’s active obedience or on demonstrations of a believer’s continuing obligation to actively obey his or her Lord: “The active obedience of Christ is the pattern and the causa exemplaris of all that holiness and purification that is required of us.”[42] While priestly work is always seen to prefigure Christ, discussions of the work of priests in the writings of the divines do not appear to give rise to reflections on the active obedience of Christ in particular. This is not to say that the Bible does not teach this idea. Nonetheless, neither in reflections on active obedience nor in reflections on priestly work did assembly members seem to have in mind accounts of Levitical priestly obedience that adumbrate the active obedience of Christ.[43] Further research may show otherwise, but from the angle of priestly work, then, it seems unlikely that a works principle may be intended in mention of “other types and ordinances ... delivered to the people of the Jews” (WCF 7.5; LC 34).

II. Varieties of Views

Perhaps the search for particular points of evidence is not the best conceived method of approach. John Fesko, following Brenton Ferry, argues that in writing the Confession the assembly’s members “explicitly exclude only one position regarding the relationship between the covenant of works and grace: ‘There are not therefore Two Covenants of Grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations,’” a reference to WCF 19.6 and its rejection of views such as those taught by Tobias Crisp. This is manifestly correct. But could it be an overstatement to conclude then that “the Confession therefore precludes only one view” and that the assembly, while not endorsing “other views” also “does not rule ... out” other perspectives? Might this announce a conclusion greater than that which the evidence actually allows? While the assembly does not adopt the pattern of narrowly prescriptive texts such as the 1675 Formula Consensus Helvetica, for example, it is quite possible that other positive statements in the assembly preclude particular views of republication.[44]

Even if the assembly only explicitly rejected one understanding of substantial republication of a covenant of works, we considered it to be incumbent on our committee to ask if there are other construals of republication that are compatible with, in tension with, or contrary to the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster standards. We asked if a case can be made that our confessional standards might disallow one version of substantial republication but possibly allow other versions or substantial republication. Or do our standards recognize anything more than an impressionistic parallel between a prelapsarian covenant of works made with Adam and the covenantal arrangement that was established in the Mosaic economy?

One of the most striking statements in our standards, read through the lens of a substantial republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant, is found in the Larger Catechism which, in addressing the moral law, speaks of “life upon the fulfilling ... death upon the breach of it” (LC 93). At the risk of oversimplifying biblical data, promises and threats usually feature in covenantal arrangements, whereas bare precepts normally characterize law (but see WCF 19.6). That the Westminster assembly would use this language to describe the moral law as summed up in the Decalogue may be indicative of an inclusive attitude amongst its members toward some variety of a covenant of works in the sense of substantial republication.

Along these lines, one of the most striking decisions of the Westminster assembly, in some way underlying or even informing its discussion of the law, is the decision to reference texts in support of WCF 7.2 describing the Mosaic covenant in order to explain the Adamic prelapsarian covenant of works: Gal 3:12 and Rom 10:5 (quoting Lev 18:5), and Gal. 3:10 (quoting Deut 27:26).[45] How could the assembly think these passages relevant if a majority of its members did not see substantive continuities between the prelapsarian covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant?

III. Confessional Interpretation

A. The Place of Proof Texts in Confessional Study

Admittedly the use of a given proof is not strictly a confessional issue per se. Further work needs to be done to determine the interpretive compass of meaning ascribed to these texts by Westminster divines, which surely ranges from those seeing relevance to a covenant of works to those who see reference to the law, or works of the law, abstracted from a covenant of works; or from those actually asserting redemptive-historical differences in the means of justification between Sinai and Calvary, to those who see differences that always exist between legitimate and illegitimate means of justification. These and other interpretations of these texts will be discussed in Chapters 5 to 8 of this report.

Nonetheless the use of these texts in this place in the Confession raises a legitimate interpretive issue. While by no means do these citations offer support for any known substantial republication paradigm per se, theologians have wondered whether they are nonetheless suggestive of something more than an administrative republication of the covenant of works, if that were possible. These texts are, after all, a useful interpretive tool of the confessional texts. “After each phrase and chapter of the Confession was drafted, the assembly debated and then approved a series of scriptural passages in support of that doctrine. Later, the gathering was required by Parliament to provide references to Scripture alongside the confession. The assembly did so reluctantly as it had no opportunity to explain, by a mere citation of a text, the exegesis of that text. But once the assembly’s members accepted the task, they chose supporting passages of Scripture carefully, refining the list of scriptural passages approved in their earlier debates.” It is a worthwhile endeavor to attempt “to use these biblical texts to understand confessional phrases” in any study. And while “modern editions of the Confession sometimes employ alternative proof-texts which sometimes offer even better biblical support to the assembly’s own doctrines” they “offer no insight into the assembly’s own thinking.”[46] It is for that reason that the historic proof texts are studied in this report.

B. Not Names, but Things

In its debates, the Westminster assembly insisted that it was committed to considering concepts, not mere labels: “we inquire not after names, but things.”[47] We have endeavored to follow this rule for ourselves in reading both historic and recent works on the subject, and especially with respect to references to “the covenant of works” or to typological or pedagogical purposes to “temporal blessings.”[48]

Other cautions in reading early-modern texts could be issued.[49] Here we want to draw special attention to the fact that seventeenth-century writers commonly qualified their positions with oppositional statements, a practice requiring careful listening and reading on the part of their contemporaries, and on our part as we approach these texts centuries later. There were divines at the Westminster assembly (a chorus of them, in fact) who routinely offered full-bodied parallels between the Mosaic covenant and the covenant of works with Adam, but then argued in the clearest of terms that the Mosaic covenant was in substance the covenant of grace. That is to say, an assembly member might insist that the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of works—and then a paragraph (or page) later insist that it was a covenant of works in its administrative form only.

For instance, in 1647, the year after the text of the Westminster Confession of Faith was finalized, Robert Baillie juxtaposed statements about the Mosaic covenant in a book against Baptist practice and hermeneutics:

It’s true, the covenant of grace,in its administration before Christs comming in theflesh, was cloathed with many shadows of now abolished ceremonies, and hadadjoined to it upon mountSinaithe old covenant of worksto be a severe paedagoguefor the pointing out the way to Christ, unto the very unruly children ofIsrael,and forkeeping them in awe and terrour by its threats and curses; alsofor alluring them toobedience by its temporall promises: we grant because of those adjuncts the covenantof grace is sometimes spoken of as an old covenant, and is distinguished from its very selfas it was administred by Christ after his incarnation, the old dresse ofSinaibeing changedas of an old garment: but that the thing was ever the same, advised Christians must beloath to doubt, for if the covenant which the Lord made withAbrahamand his seed underthe Law be not truly and substantially the new covenant of grace, we desire to know bywhat means they obtained either grace or glory: and to put all the Fathers of the OldTestament in so beastly a condition as excludes from grace and glory, who dare be soinsolent? Now if we grant them a covenant which did bring them to a state of grace in thislife, and of glory hereafter, how can we deny it to be gracious?
That which they speak of [as] a mixed covenant is not much to thepurpose, we did neverdeny the adjunction of ceremonies and temporall promises, and the whole covenant ofworks unto the covenant of grace under its first administration: yea, under the very NewTestament where the administration is much changed, the new covenant wants not both itssacramentall ceremonies and the promises of this life; but none of those adjuncts doechange the state and nature of the principall;it remains ever a covenant of pure gracewithout any mixture; it is neither in the whole, nor in any substantiall part turnedinto a covenant of works; it may not lose its denomination if it keeps its nature; itmay neither be counted wholly a covenant of works, nor a mixed covenant of graceand works.[50]

Readers will no doubt note the following. First, in one way or another, Baillie twice says in his own way that a covenant of works was adjoined to the covenant of grace in its first administration (by which he means the Mosaic economy, or even the whole Old Testament). Second, this works-flavored administration promised temporal blessings. Third, he notes that ceremonies and promises also characterized the New Testament administration of the covenant of grace, “where the administration is much changed.” Fourth, in an important qualifying statement, he adds that the “state” or “nature” or “substantial part” of the covenant of grace, even during the Mosaic administration, “may neither be counted wholly a covenant of works, nor a mixed covenant of graceand works.”[51]

At least two points emerge from this text and these observations. On the one hand, we can see clearly that the application of the label “covenant of works” to the Mosaic economy does not mean that the author finds the Mosaic economy to be a covenant of works in substance; he calls the Mosaic economy a covenant of works, but argues that it is a covenant of works in administration only. He chose to juxtapose his statements rather than avoid “covenant of works” language. This juxtaposition renders Baillie’s formulation orthodox. It also required a wide-angle lens to get this whole picture; a brief quotation would have been misleading.

On the other hand, interpreters will also see that Baillie saw temporal blessings (and even curses) with a pedagogical purpose in the Mosaic economy; but he also saw these things in the New Testament, and for believers and unbelievers alike. If anything, this is even clearer in the writings of other divines, and one reference will have to suffice: Thomas Goodwin argued that “whilst Christ governs, he is pleased, I grant, to reward such legal performances ... with rewards within their own sphere,” such as longer life to “Ahab for humbling himself,” or examples Goodwin draws from the New Testament.[52] For Goodwin, pedagogical lessons connected to temporal promises or curses are not only extended to the Ahabs of this world, but even “vouchsafed [to] the heathens.”[53] Further work needs to be done on this subject. Here our point is simply that historians of theology cannot “reverse-engineer” a substantially republished works-principle unique to the Mosaic economy by means of references to temporal blessings in the writings of the divines.

The Robert Baillie quotation is mentioned here for one additional reason. It is helpful for us to see at the outset that the description of the Mosaic economy as covenant of works in some sense did not alarm seventeenth-century ministers and theologians. Students of the Word merely wished to know what was meant by the application of the label “covenant of works” to the Mosaic economy before they proceeded to endorse or oppose a person’s particular view. We commend this spirit of attentive reading and listening before responding, especially with regard to the subject of republication.

C. Interpreting Confessional Paragraphs

The most significant chapter in our confessional standards, with respect to republication, may be the nineteenth, “Of the law of God,” the relevant sections of which read as follows:

19:1 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.
19:2 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 four first commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six our duty to man.
19:3 Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.

A key question that has confronted recent interpreters of the confession pertains to the meaning of “as such” in WCF 19.2. The words “as such” refer either to the “rule of righteousness” (in 19.2), or to “this law” defined as “a covenant of works” (19.1) and a “rule of righteousness” (19.2). To pose these possibilities is, in fact, to restate one of the critical issues under examination by our committee.

Arguments for confessional compatibility with substantial republication note that the first two paragraphs of chapter nineteen must be read together. The numbering of paragraphs in a chapter should not distract us from the fact that the chapter is a literary whole. When read together, there is at least the possibility that a republication-friendly reading was permitted or encouraged by the assembly: “after the fall” the Mosaic law was both “a covenant of works” and a “rule of righteousness” (WCF 19.1–2). The most meaningful response to this line of argumentation is simply to extend it: for surely the third paragraph must also be read in the context of the preceding two paragraphs. When the three are taken together, it no longer appears plausible to read the law delivered on Mount Sinai as offered as some form of a covenant of works, but rather as a rule of life.

A more detailed form of the argument could be rendered as follows. It is true that the words “as such” in WCF 19.2 refers either narrowly to the “rule of righteousness” (as mentioned in 19.2) or comprehensively to “this law” defined as “a covenant of works” and a “rule of righteousness” (as mentioned in 19.1 and 19.2). The narrow reading can enlist in its support the idea that the phrase “as such” might more naturally modify the immediately preceding phrase (“a perfect rule of righteousness”). The latter, more comprehensive reading, can claim as its strength the fact that it treats the paragraphs of the confession in an holistic and not atomistic fashion. Nonetheless, the phrase “this law” is used yet again in 19.3, and in that continued discussion (a continuation signaled, as in 19.2, with a proximal pronoun) the confession clarifies that “this law” under discussion is simply the “moral law”; what the assembly has in mind in 19.1–3 is the law which is “commonly called moral.”

Needless to say, if one denies that the “this law” of 19.3 does not refer to the law of the previous paragraph one should, equally, apply the same process of reasoning (whatever that might be) to the use of “this law” found in 19.2. But to say so is already to say more than is needed, for no such reading of 19.1–3 has, to our knowledge, been advanced. It should be noted that the need to read these three paragraphs together has not been noted in republication-friendly discussions of WCF 19.[54]

And of course we do want to read these paragraphs together. Not only is a continuous and dependent reading of the paragraphs of a chapter grammatically necessary here, it is also necessary throughout the confession. The paragraphs of the confession’s chapters are written to be read together. It is due to a discontinuous and independent treatment of paragraphs that has led, to cite only one example, to the suggestion that WCF 3 is hospitable to (or at least accommodating of) hypothetical universalism; for only when paragraphs 6 and 7 of that chapter are read independently of one another can confessional interpreters come to this doctrinally and textually dubious reading.

The analogy of hypothetical universalism sports some utility for this discussion of substantial republication. Yes, there are discontinuities between the two teachings: hypothetical universalism is corrosive to Reformed theology in a way that some forms of substantial republication are not; hypothetical universalism involves subtleties of doctrine that are almost incomprehensible to the person in the pew where a good presentation of substantial republication is readily intelligible; hypothetical universalism has as its driving motivation the softening of Reformed theology, whereas republication hopes to bolster it. Yet there are real continuities too. Both, to some degree, are attempting to address exegetical complexities; both views were held by important members of the Westminster assembly; both views could have been much more obviously excluded from the Westminster standards if the assembly had so wished. Perhaps most importantly, while neither view is denounced with any enthusiasm, neither finds a wide open door in the system of doctrine offered by the Westminster assembly.

Nonetheless, perhaps a clearer understanding of WCF 19.6 would still enable us to find a place for substantial republication in our confessional standards. The paragraph begins with the statement that “although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet it is of great use to them ...” Proponents of substantial republication agree that believers, because they are under the covenant of grace, cannot be justified or condemned by the covenant of works, but argue that, at least in the Old Testament, believers could be “under the law” for purposes other than personal justification or condemnation.

It would have been easier to make this case if the comma was not present after the word “works.” Additionally, it should once again be noted that the text of the confession does not appear to have in view the Mosaic economy, and the proof texts cited here also have little or nothing to do with the condition of old covenant believers specifically. Rom 6:14; Gal 2:16; Gal 3:13; Gal 4:4–5; Acts 13:39; and Rom 8:1 have in view only concerns about the application of redemption and interests with respect to Christ’s accomplished work. What is more, WCF 19.6 goes on to assert that divine promises show Christians “God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law, as a covenant of works.”

This is not to judge at this point that there is a lack of system-compatibility with substantial republication or with a works principle; it is to say that there appears to be a lack of system-hospitability. The theological and exegetical framework of the confession is not necessarily hostile to substantial republication, but nor is it an obvious ally. Maybe the most that can be said at this point in our inquiry is that our confessional standards sometimes flirt with ideas that could be themselves friendly to substantial republication—but remain, nonetheless, a step removed from any real relationship with republication itself. However additional confessional topics must be addressed, especially on the subjects of creation, covenant, law, and merit if we are to substantiate even this supposition.

Ch. 3 – Law and Covenant

I. Creation and Covenant

The treatment of prelapsarian and Mosaic covenants in our confessional standards is not uncomplicated in its details. The standards reflect Scripture in insisting that we are made in God’s image, and that our first parents understood from the beginning the true nature of “knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.” Adam and Eve knew this because the law of God, reflecting the character of God, was “written in their hearts” (LC 17; WCF 4.2).

That said, while our first parents bore this image and were embedded with this law, the distance between God and humanity is so great that God voluntary condescended to us, without which we would have no benefit from him at all. God’s act of “voluntary condescension” was to establish a covenant (WCF 7.1). In other words, the 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).[55] This means, among other things, that creation does not seem to be synonymous with covenant.

For some, the relationship of covenant to creation must have a controlling function in this debate. For reasons that we cannot detail here, some theologians think that the very acknowledgement that covenant is within the realm of providence is enough to preclude some positions in the current debate. Your committee is not convinced that this is the case, since Reformed theologians on different sides of the republication discussion have respectfully disagreed even with their ‘co-belligerents’ as to whether covenant is an aspect of creation or work of providence or both. In spite of contentions to the contrary, then, the issue does not necessarily carry a determinative significance.

II. Law and Covenant

It appears, then, that the implantation of the moral law in the human conscience is coincident with creation, and yet the creation of a covenant falls under the realm of providence. In other words, from the viewpoint of the confession, this law on their hearts was not naked; it was clothed from (almost?) the beginning in a covenantal arrangement. It is for that reason the man and the woman were not alone together in the garden; it is in that way they were enabled to live in relationship with God. Natural law does not seem to be synonymous with the covenant of works.

Nonetheless, law and covenant, as presented in our confessional standards, have much in common, not least that they both contain the requirement of perfect and personal obedience (cf. LC 93, 99 and WCF 7.2; 19.1). This relationship between covenant and law is carefully nuanced in our standards.

First, the confessional description of the conditions of the covenant of works presents only the perfect and personal elements of obedience, omitting the perpetual, perhaps suggesting a promise of an accelerated eschatological life for Adam and his descendants if he or they were to pass some probationary period (WCF 7.2). The law, by contrast, including the law for Adam in his prelapsarian state, entailed demands that were perfect, personal, and perpetual (WCF 19.1 and LC 93, 99). And yet although law and covenant are presented as similar but different, the confession can still state that “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works”—a surprisingly robust statement of identity (19.1).[56]

Second, it appears that covenant is a larger category than law; that covenant contains law, for law 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).[57] 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. And yet it is in statements like these that advocates of a substantial republication of a works principle see an olive branch being offered to their seventeenth-century forbears, and by extension to themselves.

III. Historical Exegesis

Further complicating this account, and to return now to an issue raised above, the Westminster assembly voted to supply biblical texts describing the Mosaic covenant in order to explain features of the Adamic prelapsarian covenant of works. WCF 7.2 states that “the first covenant made with man, was a covenant of works,” and describes it as one “wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience”—in support of which the members of the assembly cited Rom 10:5 (quoting Lev 18:5), that “the person who does the commandments shall live by them” and Gal 3:10 (quoting Deut 27:26) that “cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Needless to say, it only adds to the intrigue that in supplying these proof texts to the confession, and a subset of these same texts in the catechisms, a majority in the assembly would see some features of the Mosaic law so well representing the prelapsarian covenant of works.[58]

With respect to the presence of these biblical texts in the assembly’s footnotes, the precise question is this: what 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].

If the proof texts assigned by the assembly are to serve as pointers to some kind of a covenant of works or works principle in the Mosaic economy, then we must demonstrate that the citation of these particular texts served as possible pointers to a substantial republication of a works principle unique to the Mosaic economy. In other words, we must determine if the citation of these texts in this place was intended to communicate or permit a works principle not only as part of the prelapsarian covenant, or as a continuing rule for unbelievers living under the covenant of works, but also in some sense as a unique (perhaps typological) aspect of the nature of the Mosaic economy for Old Testament believers. For after all, the assembly, in the citations offered for each of the three clauses of WCF 7.2, could be making more general or generic points not in support of substantial republication.

Quite apart from the general points articulated with these same texts in WCF 19.1 (and in LC 92, 93 and SC 40), general purposes for these citations are obviously plausible for each of the three clauses of WCF 7.2. For example, Gal 3:12, itself quoting Lev 18:5, is cited to support the idea that the “first covenant of man was a covenant of works.” The citation from Galatians (and thus Leviticus) could simply be stating that the terms and the standards articulated in the garden of Eden and embedded in a covenant of works continues to apply to all persons in human history. Thus, this point is clarified by the assembly in that it did not cite a text that explicitly refers to the prelapsarian economy, but a text from the Mosaic economy (Lev. 18:5) quoted in the New Testament era (Gal 3:12)—texts which flag the fact that the language of law and life is expressive of the terms of the covenant of works.[59]

Again, the reference to the Romans passages might merely substantiate that eternal life was promised as a feature of the covenant of works (Rom 10:5, quoting Lev 18:5), and that the terms of the covenant pertained not only to Adam but to all people after him (Rom 5:12–20). In other words, it might hold out a hypothetical and unattainable works principle, but a principle as true during the days of the Roman empire as it was in the time of the Pharaohs.

Finally, the citation of Gen 2:17 and Gal 3:10 may only hold out the enduring high standards of the covenant: “condition of perfect and perpetual obedience.”

Since these “generic readings” of these texts are possible, it will require at least two layers of argumentation to find clear support for substantial republication in the citation of Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:10, 12. Nothing less will carry water.

First, and most obviously, we must find members of the assembly who are discussing these texts of scripture, and not merely the topic of republication. Recent accounts of seventeenth-century adumbrations of a works principle in the Mosaic economy often outline the range of views expressed by early-modern theologians on the topic of republication. This study, on the other hand, desires to understand the range of interpretations of these particular texts. Certainly surveys of views on the topic of republication have been fruitful, but they are not useful in explaining the citation of these texts. In other words, it is not enough to demonstrate that members of the assembly saw some kind of a works principle in the Mosaic economy. A waterproof argument must also find discussions of substantial republication tethered to citations or quotations of Rom 10:5 or Gal 3:10,12 in which authors or speakers conclude that these passages provide evidence for a substantial republication of the covenant of works or of a works principle unique to the people of Israel.

Second, we 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. Arguably, a quotation from Leviticus or Deuteronomy employed as a description of the prelapsarian covenant of works might not prove that a given author thinks that the Mosaic economy is itself uniquely a covenant of works for believers, or that a works principle unique to the Mosaic economy is in view. For example, it could merely demonstrate that a divine sees some material (rather than a formal) point of continuity between the prelapsarian and Mosaic economies, or demonstrate that all unbelievers in any economy are under a covenant of works.[60] At any rate, it is clearly the case that some divines cite these texts as descriptive of a covenant of works in some sense who yet see the Mosaic economy as part of the covenant of grace, and the nuances of their positions must be understood.[61] Only when we have clarified these matters can we begin to ask in what sense an author understands Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:10, 12 to support the idea of a works principle republished in the Mosaic economy, if at all.

In reading exegetical comment on these texts we find both complementary and competing interpretations. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for these texts to be cited in discussions of the moral law only (that is, discussions that make no explicit connection to the covenant of works). To illustrate the variety of interpretations we can consider treatments of Gal 3:10. Amongst members of the assembly the verse was often used as proof that the standards of the law are so rigorous as to require Christ to keep what we cannot;[62] that the requirements of the moral law are unchanging;[63] that if we are to be saved, it will not be “for nor by our own works or deservings”;[64] that penalties (or promises) are attached to the law;[65] that naturally, in Adam, we deserve the curse of the law;[66] and that Jesus Christ has graciously taken that curse for us.[67] Often Gal 3:10 is only one of many passages cited to make these points, not infrequently in conjunction with Deut 27:26, Gal 3:12 and Rom 5 (but seldom with Lev 18:5). Against the grain of these citations as a whole, William Gouge saw Gal 3:10 (and Gal 3:12 and Rom 10:5) as evidence that there is a kind of “legal righteousness” in the “moral law ... given to Adam” that is not characteristic of the “evangelical righteousness” of the new covenant.[68]

The previous paragraph offers interpretations of Gal 3:10 focused on the moral law only—interpretations that varied. But the issue before this committee is not simply about law, but covenant. We must determine that a person quoting the passage is referring to the Mosaic economy, and more specifically, to a works principle for believers unique to the Mosaic economy. After all, WCF 7.2 both speaks about life promised and the conditions under which it is to be granted. In other words, this paragraph in the confession does not merely articulate the high standard of God’s law and the punishment to be incurred by its breach, but the promise of God’s covenant, and the means for obtaining its blessings. Again, it is for this reason that scholars in favor of republication wonder if the biblical texts cited by the assembly suggest some kind of works principle shared by both the Mosaic and the prelapsarian economies.

The best measure of interpretive plausibility is a consideration of how assembly members employed these texts themselves. This is more difficult than historians of exegesis might wish, in part because of the less-than-precise ways in which members would often discuss matters of the covenant. The variety of exegetical positions taken and theological positions held with respect to covenant theology is vast—much vaster than that which exists today, and much vaster amongst those early-modern theologians who wrote full monographs on the topic of covenant theology than amongst systematic theologians who discussed covenant theology as one locus among various loci (e.g., Calvin or Turretin). Conversely, theologians, including Westminster divines, routinely refer to the “covenant of works” in their writings as though it were a term interchangeable with the “moral law,” and the “covenant of grace” as though it were synonymous with the “gospel.”[69] As a result, every effort needs to be made to escape slippery citations from historic sources, avoiding confusion between an argument for administrative republication with an argument for substantial republication of a covenant of works. To that end, we have first examined the use of these texts only when they are explicitly linked in assembly literature to the covenant of works in some sense, and second, we have attempted to look for evidence that assembly exegetes were employing these texts to substantiate or bolster a case for substantial republication or some kind of works principle.

Inconveniently, but understandably, we rarely see all of these texts tidily clustered together as they are in WCF 7.2. William Gouge brings them under one roof in order to argue that Lev 18:5, Gal 3:12 and Rom 10:5 express the conditions of the prelapsarian covenant of works positively, and Deut 27:26 and Gal 3:10 negatively.[70] More often these passages are discussed alone or in pairs, and often with the Pauline citations of the Pentateuch in view. Nonetheless, when we survey the writings of assembly members with an eye to these biblical citations in the context of discussions about the covenant of works, it is possible to offer some generalizations. 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)

Gal 3:12 is often cited with no explicit association to covenant theology at all,[71] but when it is, it is not uncommon to find it in the company of Gal 3:10, subpoenaed simply as witness to the existence of a prelapsarian covenant of works with an emphasis on obedience.[72] Occasionally the text is cited to emphasize that the covenant of prelapsarian works offered life to Adam
and Eve.[73]

Romans 10:5 (quoting Leviticus 18:5); Romans 5:12–20

Of the two Pauline passages in the letter to the Romans, the one that is of most interest to proponents of a republication of a works principle is Rom 10:5. In the writing of assembly members, the appearance of this passage in discussions of covenantal theology serves (1) to accentuate the need for obedience in a prelapsarian covenant of works, a covenant which endures in the postlapsarian period for all unbelievers,[74] 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,[75] or (2) and (3).[76]

These readings often allow that the Mosaic economy involved a substantial republication—but only as one aspect of an all-inclusive postlapsarian republication and not as anything uniquely Mosaic. What is more, the republication of the covenant of works applies to unbelievers only and not to believers. Perhaps the best-known articulation of this view is by William Strong.[77] Ferry terms this the “relative, formal” republication of the covenant of works, and as he points out, a variety of this idea is articulated in the Larger Catechism (LC 93).[78] Significantly, Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:10, 12 are cited in the catechism as proof.

Once again, an odd man out, William Gouge thought that Lev 18:5 indicates a principle that is true for both the covenant of works and the covenant of grace: “something is required on man’s part in both”; in one, obedience, and in the other, faith. [79] Gouge more frequently related Lev18:5 to the prelapsarian covenant of works and the promise of life upon obedience.[80] Understandably he also took Rom 10:5 to be offering a promise of life in the prelapsarian covenant of works and in the covenant of grace.[81]

Genesis 2:17; Galatians 3:10

Two Genesis and Galatians texts are commonly paired in assembly member literature, one or the other of which is most often as evidence that there were conditions attached to the covenant of works,[82] or that these conditions are damning to those in Adam but outside Christ, or as evidence of conditions and of threat of damnation.[83] Francis Cheynell’s conclusion is characteristic of assembly exegetes in seeing Gal 3:10 as illustrative of the covenant of life in the garden, “requiring perfect and perpetuall obedience under the paine of a curse.”[84]

With respect to the Mosaic economy, assembly members were conscious of Paul’s quotation in Gal 3:10 of Deut 27:26. Nonetheless, associations with these passages repeatedly emphasize only “that the Covenant of Works was a work of justice”[85] and that as a result, in Adam all unbelievers are under the threat of the curse of the covenant of works.[86] Again, these readings allow that the Mosaic economy involved a substantial republication—but a republication applied only to unbelievers and not unique to the Mosaic administration.

While not all examples of the usual lines of exegesis are represented here, and there are other permutations which we have not listed, no example of a substantial “republication” of a covenant of works or works principle in the Mosaic economy has knowingly been omitted.[87] 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

Even if further research were to find clear evidence that the majority of Westminster divines understood the texts cited in WCF 7.2 as indicative of a work principle unique to the Mosaic economy, one still has to ask how these subtleties are to be understood in light of the main lines of thought offered in the confession and catechisms. How are we to consider these strands of thought in terms of the overarching systematic concerns in our confessional texts? After all, as argued in Section I of this chapter, throughout 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). Any symbolic or redemptive-historical contrast within and between the two testaments is only an overlay for a substantial and trans-testamental unity that does not change (WCF 7.5, 7.6; LC 34).

Furthermore, the only condition of that covenant of grace for human beings is that of faith in Christ (LC 32). If all this is so, then faith is characteristic of God’s people in the covenant of grace before and after the time of Christ, in which case the assertion of WCF 19:6, that “true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works,” must have determinative significance for understanding the role of a republished works principle for believers living in the Mosaic economy. The confession and catechisms make these assertions with significant emphasis. These are not incidental considerations, but repeated assertions occupying entire paragraphs in the confession and series of questions and answers in the Larger Catechism.

By way of contrast, the trains of thought prompted by the biblical citations in WCF 7.2 never seem to leave the station. Perhaps a door is cracked open but nothing enters the rest of the confession to support the systematic development of any substantial republication of the covenant of works or a works principle. No such 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).[88]

The inclusion of threat and promise language in the assembly’s description of the law, and then the citation of texts that have sometimes been used to articulate a works principle, are both interesting features of the confession; there may be an intention expressed through these citations pianissimo, but not forte. Alternatively, they may be absorbing artifacts of the assembly’s debates. But it seems that strong evidence for any intention is wanting, not least with respect to the citation of Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:10,12, for there is no obvious biblical meaning or tradition of exegesis tying these texts to a works principle which the divines could expect their contemporaries to recognize. What is more, even if we are to ascribe the highest importance to this data, it cannot easily be absorbed into our current confessional framework. For against these few incongruent features we must set the all-embracing covenantal rubric of the confession and catechisms framed in terms of covenantal substance and administration; indeed, in considering the overall picture provided by our standards, and not merely by WCF 19.1–3, the word ‘incongruent’ seems entirely justified.

Ch. 4 – Merit and Mediator

I. Merit and Demerit

We have sought to understand the place of republication concepts in relation to confessional materials treating the subjects of typology, law, and covenant. Republication concepts must also be considered in relation to the grounds and the means of merit (and demerit). If we are to understand the place of a works principle vis-à-vis our confessional standards, then we must understand what our standards have to say about works and rewards.[89]

One important subject raised in some discussions about republication is the relationship between a work and a reward. Is it the case that there is some necessary correspondence between a work and its reward? Or is a connection between the two a matter which God himself can freely determine as he pleases, but once determined, is obliged, in faithfulness to his own word, to maintain? 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”).

Our confessional standards highlight both of these aspects—the glory of God’s freedom and the consistency and goodness of God’s character and choices. On the one hand, the Confession’s doxological description of God in WCF 2:2 emphasizes that “to Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.” On the other, the Larger Catechism carefully explains that sin is an offence “against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God” and also “against his righteous law” (LC 152). Note that this deliberate distinction between the person of God and the will of God is that which explains why “sin, even the least” sin, deserves God’s wrath and curse, and why it “cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.” Significantly, the explanation offered by the catechism is that the definition of sin and standard for obedience are determined by, or in relation to, the person and character of God.

The insistence on this understanding of work and reward, or “merit,” while most succinctly noted in the Larger Catechism, is present throughout our confessional standards. It suggests that while anything that God demands is due to him, God will demand and reward only what is consonant with the holiness and justice of his character. Both in their lament of our demerits and in their praise of Christ’s merits, our standards describe a consistent relationship between work and rewards that contains important elements. They can be summarized under five headings, for it appears from our standards that a properly meritorious work must be free, perfect, personal, profitable, and proportional.

The first aspect of a properly meritorious work (a work deserving of reward) is that it is 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. Under this heading, as in every aspect of a discussion of merit, we encounter a contrast between ourselves and our Savior. Such is our debt to the one who has made us and rules over us, such is the relationship of man to his maker, that as reasoning “creatures” we “owe obedience unto” God as our “Creator” (WCF 7.1). Indeed, quite apart from the fact that we “are guilty both of original and actual sin, and thereby [have] become debtors to the justice of God” (LC 194), every one of us knows that we owe “whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of” us (WCF 2:2). But Jesus Christ, by way of contrast, is no mere creature and he owed no obedience to the creator. This was a subject about which the assembly debated at length,[90] and thus the gathering’s statement that the incarnate “Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake” his work as our mediator should be read as a deliberate and not an accidental comment on his meritorious work (WCF 8.4). His actions were performed freely, and not as a matter of debt. His work was meritorious because it was free.

The second aspect of proper merit is that it be perfect. There must be nothing lacking in the performance of the work that would make it unworthy of reward. Unsurprisingly, the standards’ discussion of sin clarifies that as fallen persons—and even as redeemed—“our best works” fall short of God’s standard for obedience (WCF 16.5). Echoing the pronouncements of the Word of God, we are told that “in Adam, and by our own sin, we have” also “forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life”—something that is apparently true in any postlapsarian and preeschatological placement of humanity (LC 193). The most that we can do is to offer work that is “sincere” and “accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections”—which is diametrically opposed to offering work that is “unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight” (WCF 16.6). The whole of WCF 6 precludes the possibility of making a beneficial covenant of works (in substance) with fallen man. That chapter only underscores what is said elsewhere: that God provided a mediator who is perfect himself (WCF 8.2), who was made under the law (WCF 8.4) and who can offer “perfect obedience” in our place (WCF 8.5). His work was meritorious because it was perfect.

The third property of a work properly deserving reward is that it be personal. If we are to claim a work as our own, we must not be borrowing the efforts of others. Here too, we fall short. Outside of Christ our personal works cannot be accepted at all (for the reasons mentioned above). “They may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God” (WCF 16.7). Conversely, works that we do united to Christ are only accepted “through Christ.” Our Father is “pleased to accept and reward” what we do because he looks “upon them in his Son” (WCF 16.6). If we do have works that are good, “they are good” as “they proceed from His Spirit” (WCF 16.5). We completely depend on the Triune God acting on our behalf, not least the mediator “anointed with the holy Spirit, above measure,” to whom “all power” has been given on our behalf (WCF 8.3). So far are we from standing on our own two feet that “we wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” His work was meritorious because it was personal.

(Incidentally, these first three considerations might prompt us to ask how, or in what way, land rights and blessings in Canaan can, under this construction, be considered as meritoriously earned under a works principle of any sort and, secondly, whether the concept of typological legibility informs or undermines these key confessional ideas. That is to say, there is in the Reformed tradition a dominant understanding of “legibility,” but it is not typological. It is the legibility of grace worked in a child of God, as viewed by God the Father. As William Strong put it, prior to our redemption under the old covenant, “He hates the persons for the works sake, Gen. 4:7, Gal. 3:10, but under the New Covenant he loves the service for the person’s sake.”[91] These truths are spelled out in WCF 16.7 and 16.6.)

In the fourth place, a properly meritorious work is profitable. It gets its reward; it has purchasing power. Admittedly this is but a logical conclusion of that which precedes it; another facet of the same truth. And yet it is commonly discussed in theological literature on merit and is obviously present in our confessional standards. This is presented in the starkest of terms in WCF 16.5. There we are reminded that “we cannot, by our best works, merit pardon of sin, or eternal life, at the hand of God.” Indeed, quoting Christ’s comment in Luke 17:10, we are told that “when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants.” God is a just master, and what we do “cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment” (WCF 16.5); indeed, we cannot even do anything to make ourselves acceptable candidates “to receive grace from God” (WCF 16.7). 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). Christ “purchased” liberty for believers. He has bought for us “freedom from the guilt of sin; the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God” (WCF 20.1). His work was meritorious because it was profitable.

Finally, a properly meritorious work will be proportional to its reward. A day’s pay for an hour’s work is a matter of grace not works. And so how are we to consider a reward consisting of an eternity of joyful fellowship with God? It can hardly be surprising that the confession insists on a “great disproportion” that “is between” the works of the redeemed “and the glory to come” (WCF 16.5). 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. The chasm between what we deserve and what we inherit can only be bridged by a beneficent covenantal agreement.

Furthermore, not only is there a “great disproportion” between the works of the redeemed “and the glory to come,” but also an “infinite distance that is between us and God” (WCF 16.5). Even pre-fall merit is thus excluded, in any proportional sense, because of the ontological difference between the Creator and the creature. Adam had a capacity for perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience, but the value of that obedience was far less than the promised reward. Quite apart from the problem of sin (also discussed in 16.5), it seems, 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.

Thus in Adam’s case, in discussions of merit, theologians face a fork in the road. On one side, theologians can shy away from applying merit categories altogether, since it is inappropriate to speak of real merit even for Adam in his prelapsarian state. On the other side, 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. Reformed and post-Reformation theologians have been divided on this question—a controversy only heightened when it comes to considerations of merit in a postlapsarian condition. The Reformed orthodox uniformly deny ex pacto human merit for eschatological blessings. Some, however, accept a modification of the concept (what might be termed typological merit) in light of the post-fall realities of sin and redemption when applied to temporal blessings under the Mosaic economy.[92] This is intended to explain what appears to be some unique instances of biblical obedience and disobedience, as in the case of Abraham.

Confessional statements about disproportionality are significant in themselves, but they also serve to tee up, once again, a discussion about the Savior. Little wonder that the Confession of Faith and the Larger Catechism argue that our mediator must be God (LC 38), must be full of the Spirit (WCF 8.3) and must be perfectly obedient (WCF 8.4 and 8.5). All three of these elements are non-negotiable aspects of the system of doctrine in our standards—not merely that all of this obtained in the person and life of Christ, but that they must obtain in order for our Lord Jesus to freely, perfectly, personally, and for us profitably grant all of his people a reward. What else could be proportional to so great a gift than a divine Savior? Only he could, only he has “fully satisfied the justice of his Father” and “purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of Heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him” (WCF 8.5).

Of course it is also true, and must be emphasized, that in order to save us the Messiah needed to be a man, had to be born under a woman, and placed under the law. He needed to come as the last Adam. Indeed, our Confession emphasizes that Christ was Mediator according to both natures (WCF 8:7). It is not without significance that the Apostle says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). As a surety, he must be very man, a partaker of flesh and blood (Heb 2:14) and he must be a man like us in order that he might satisfy the justice in the same nature that originally offended God’s majesty through Adam’s highhanded sin. He must be a man since the Apostle links the incarnation and being under the law (Gal 4:4). He must be a man because he must perform God’s law, something which the Godhead could not do; that “Christ was obedient to the law” is a statement proper to Christ’s human nature (Heb 10:5–7; Phil 2:5–11; Gal 4:4–5). Moreover, Christ must be a holy man, “innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens ...” since his sacrifice was “once for all when he offered up himself” (Heb 7:26–27).

Nevertheless, there is another accent in our standards, and it is of particular interest in the current discussion. 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. In the words of LC 38, “It was requisite that the mediator should be God” to “give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience, and intercession” as well as “to satisfy God’s justice.” Or as Cornelius Burges put it, “Why should not Christ’s meritts be of infinit value by suffering in his flesh, since that God suffered”?[93] We can speak of an “efficacy” to “the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ” (WCF 17.2). 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

In considering merit, we have not addressed the subject of a typology of imperfect human merit, types related to temporal blessings, or types issued for pedagogical purposes. If we were to do so, we would want to acknowledge with proponents of substantial republication and many others that types always offer incomplete correspondence to the antitype—whether it be to Christ, his work, or his benefits. Types are only types, and the temperature of any conversation about typology should take this important fact into consideration.

That said, given what the confession has to say about types and what it has to say about merit and demerit, real questions are raised which are not easily answered. After all, our imperfection under the moral law is intended to point us to Christ. But does a works principle do the same? This question is especially pointed if the works principle requires a less-than-perfect obedience. What is the typological import of this imperfection with respect to merit and obedience, both ours and Christ’s? How is such a principle really analogous—even typologically—to the Adamic covenant of works? It is not particularly controversial to argue for the confessional compatibility of seeing in the Mosaic, indeed, in the whole Old Testament economy, reiterations of Adam’s demerit, failure, and rebellion in Ahab and the kings of Israel, or types of Christ’s merit in Abraham the patriarch or Aaron the priest. On the other hand, since a type should reflect its symbolized reality, it is quite another step to argue for “typological legibility” and to ask what it might represent about works, faith, and the work of Christ.

III. Other Observations

In trying to understand the ethos of our standards as a whole, one cannot help but notice the manner in which the confession and catechisms stress a core commonality in the manner of God’s dealing with people both covenant administrations of the covenant of grace. Within the Reformed community we often note, in contrast to other evangelical believers, the continuities between the Old and New Testaments. This is affirmed in our confessional standards and it provides an important, albeit indirect, commentary on constructions of republication. Whatever we are to think about republication, we must affirm that all “true believers,” presumably believers in any administration of the covenant of grace,[94] are “not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned” (WCF 19.6; also LC 97).

More to the point of this study, it should also be noted that in our confessional standards the Mosaic economy is not given any particularly unique place. The liberties that Christ purchased for believers “were common ... to believers under the law” (WCF 20.1). God “manifesteth his sovereignty ... as with Israel of old, so with all his people” (LC 101). Disability in keeping the moral law is declared to be God’s standard method for directing sinners to Christ (LC 95–96)—without reference to a corresponding failure to merit temporal blessings unique to the Mosaic economy. All of the blessings and cursings experienced by his people are explained in terms of the purposes in line with the covenant of grace without any typological reference (WCF 19.6; LC 133).[95]

IV. Preliminary Conclusions

1. This part of our report argues that it is basic to our confession’s presentation of covenant theology to distinguish between the substance and administration of the covenant of grace—that the accidents of the covenant of grace change while the substance remains the same. Persons on all sides of the contemporary debate want to avoid a movement from a prelapsarian to a Mosaic covenant of works that focuses on covenantal similarities that are only accidental, but where in the process the gracious covenantal substance is transmuted into a gospel of self-righteousness.

2. It is clear that the confession allows for an administrative republication of the covenant of works, and thus a covenant of works in some sense in the Mosaic covenant. After all, the prescriptive contents of the moral law, or the prelapsarian covenant of works made with Adam, along with its high standards, are reissued on Mount Sinai.

3. Our standards are very modest, on the other hand, with their use of typology, sticking to well-established types, many (all?) of them enjoying New Testament verification and explication.

4. Biblical and theological cases for substantial republication of some kind are stronger than the confessional case for substantial republication, not least because there is always more material in the Bible to support any given view than there is the more limited confessional corpus.

5. The assembly hardly expended much effort to exclude the idea of republication of the covenant of works in every sense, even if it excluded republication in some senses. This is not surprising. Statements of faith are like varieties of vehicles in a royal motorcade. Some are open top carriages—like the Apostle’s creed, which openly displays a doctrine but makes no effort to defend it. Some are armored cars, sturdy vehicles for conveying concepts, sacrificing elegance in favor of protecting the truths most often targeted by the enemy: the Chalcedonian Definition and Athanasian Creed come to mind.

Other confessions are elegant limousines with protective glass. The Westminster Confession of Faith—and this may be a stretch—appears designed to be this kind of a medium for transporting truth. It contains dignified statements of doctrine, but it is not impregnable. It offers some protection from unwelcomed construals and predictable errors. Some ideas are explicitly rejected. Other views are left unaddressed, including most varieties of substantial republication.

6. That said, and to change the metaphor, it is also the case that the stated doctrinal system of the confession is not a natural host to the idea of a works principle in substance, rather than administration. With respect to a substantial or formal republication of the covenant of works, the confession does not explicitly teach the doctrine, nor is it obvious that its system of doctrine welcomes such a principle in the Mosaic economy.

7. At the very least, for such a principle to be admitted by those committed to our confessional standards, perhaps under the rubric of “other types” (WCF 7.5; LC 34), it would need to be carefully and diligently defined—perhaps more diligently than has been done publicly thus far. Likewise, 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 next chapters will outline the many ways in which theologians, with varying degrees of success, attempted to navigate the straits of biblical theology and doctrinal precision. 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. In our Reformed tradition, this subject was regularly addressed in terms of understanding the substance of the Mosaic covenant. Sometimes this question was asked in absolute terms, focusing on the Mosaic covenant in itself. Is the Mosaic covenant itself a covenant of works, a covenant of grace, or something else? At other times, the question was asked relatively, focusing on the relationship between the old and new covenants. Is the Mosaic covenant the same in substance as the Abrahamic and new covenant administrations of the covenant of grace?[96] Whatever the approach, the focus was same: identifying the substance of the Mosaic covenant. The key question turns on whether there is a substantial difference between the Mosaic covenant and the covenant of grace.

By addressing the question in this way, writers in the Reformed tradition were able to assess the question of “republication” in a way that kept the most important systematic and exegetical issues at the forefront. Viewing the issue through the lens of the “substance” of God’s covenants allowed them to assess the question of republication with a direct eye upon how it fit within the deep structures of the Reformed tradition’s system of doctrine, as summarized in its confessional documents.

The systematic distinction between the substance and the administration of God’s covenant is perhaps the most basic in covenant theology. It was utilized as early as the 1520s by Huldirch Zwingli in Zurich, and carried over into the work of Heinrich Bullinger, John Calvin, and other reformers in subsequent decades.[97] It quickly became embodied in the Reformed confessional tradition in the latter half of sixteenth century and well after. It is also an essential and integral aspect of the Reformed system contained in the Westminster standards (WCF 7:5–6; LC 33–35), as is argued in the opening chapter of our report. There we outlined the definition and meaning of the terms “substance” and “administration” as used in our doctrinal standards. The idea of the “substance” of the covenant involves its core content. In the covenant of works, the substance involves the condition of perfect, personal obedience, and the promise of life upon the fulfillment thereof. In the covenant of grace, the substance involves Christ himself (with his perfect, personal, obedience, and the promise of life through him alone) as he is appropriated by the elect through faith. The “administration” of the covenant is the outward means by and in which God communicates these benefits to believers. In the Old Testament, the administration of the covenant of grace consisted of various promises, prophecies, types, and ordinances. In the New Testament, the administration of the covenant of grace consists primarily in the preaching of the word and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

This chapter offers an organized survey or taxonomy of views of republication within the Reformed tradition. 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. This basic distinction provides a central conceptual framework for understanding the taxonomy presented in this chapter, and it offers those studying the history of the doctrine of republication at least three advantages.

First, as already noted, it helps us keep the central systematic concerns of our tradition at the forefront of our work. The doctrine of the covenant is a major “intersection” of the Reformed theological metropolis. It is the place in our system where several other important doctrines meet, including merit, grace, sin, reward for good works, and the person and work of Christ. The taxonomy will help us to send clear signals on fundamental doctrines as we address more complex issues related to republication.

Secondly, the taxonomy will provide a basic framework to understand and assess the array of disputed issues specifically related to various views of republication, such as the nature of obedience under the Mosaic covenant, the function of redemptive typology, and the role of the law in various administrations of the covenant of grace.

Thirdly, the proposed taxonomy will help us discern what is peripheral and what is central in discussions regarding the doctrine of republication. Our confessional tradition has always been one that seeks consensus on the system of doctrine, while tolerating diversity on matters non-essential to that system. The substance-administration distinction is basic to the Reformed system of doctrine concerning the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. By analyzing various proposals through the lens of this substance-administration distinction, we will be better equipped to assess present discussions of republication and assist the church in identifying the guidelines and boundaries set forth in our doctrinal standards. To focus on the substance of the Mosaic covenant is not to ignore the question the General Assembly has placed before the committee. It is simply to delimit the way we will address the question.

I. Toward a Taxonomy

While convinced that the distinction between substance and administration is the most useful lens through which views on republication need to be assessed, this committee has faced a considerable challenge in determining how to categorize the various “senses” of republication in the Reformed tradition. Any attempt at a taxonomy is bound to have shortcomings due to both the possibility and reality of inconsistency within individual positions. Writers indigenous to the seventeenth century recognized the problem, lamenting the lack of clarity and contradictions within previous discussions. As the Presbyterian minister Francis Roberts noted, “Very many and learned writers are much intangled and perplexed in their Notions and Expressions bout the Nature of this SINAI-COVENANT, wherein they not only dissent oft-times from one another, but sometimes from themselves so far, that it is hard to discover their sense and meaning.”[98] Similar statements have been uttered by a number of seventeenth-century writers. In addition to the inherent difficulty of the subject, the reality of inconsistency in some writers (as mentioned by Roberts) renders the construction of a comprehensive taxonomy a difficult task.

Therefore, in the course of our discussion, we need to establish some principles to delimit our taxonomic framework of this issue. We would propose the following threefold criteria. First, the taxonomy should be historically accurate and reflect the way the questions have been addressed in the Reformed tradition, especially leading up to and contemporaneous with the Westminster Assembly. This would help us avoid anachronism (i.e., reading present categories back on the past), and also give us a starting point for our present debate that is rooted in our tradition. Secondly, the taxonomy should be systematically useful for analyzing the discussion. It should provide, insofar as is possible, not only a descriptive statement regarding the presence of various views in the tradition, but also an investigative framework for continued analysis of the issue. Thirdly, the taxonomy should reflect the diversity of opinion within the tradition, but without being overwhelmed by minutiae in terms of less significant differences.

For the sake of brevity and clarity, it is useful to observe that there 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. Hopefully, these terms will become clearer as we proceed. Nonetheless, hybrid positions were held throughout the history of Reformed thought, and we are constrained to present four varieties within our taxonomy.

With this in view, we would approach the question of republication according to a four-fold taxonomy that is commonly found in the Reformed tradition. It can be found in Reformed writers such as John Ball, Anthony Burgess, Francis Roberts, and Francis Turretin, to name a few.[99] Other taxonomies can certainly be found, but this is arguably the most common framework in which the topic is addressed, and, we believe, the most helpful.

This 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.

It is important to note at the outset that this fourfold taxonomy can also be further simplified terms of the basic categories for classifying versions of republication. As stated above, there are two forms of republication, substantial and administrative. 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.[100] Thus, our taxonomy will also include a section outlining the various distinctions used by proponents of the fourth view to account for the role of the law in the Sinaitic administration of the covenant of grace. The following chart may help to visualize the key differences among the four historic positions on the Mosaic covenant.

Works

 

 

Grace

View 1

View 2

View 3

View 4

Covenant of Works

Mixed

Subservient

Covenant of Grace

Works alone, in essence

Works + grace, in essence

Pure works in essence but on temporal level

No works in essence, only grace

Positions one and four represent opposite poles of the spectrum: from no grace to pure grace. Positions two and three represent attempts to mitigate this polarity. The mixed covenant view does this by combining works and grace as equally ultimately aspects of the essence of the Mosaic covenant. The subservient covenant does this by temporalizing the works element, restricting the relationship of works to blessings on the earthly realm only, thus mitigating the tension with works and grace at the level of eternal salvation.[101]

Finally, we must explain how focusing on the substance of the Mosaic covenant addresses our mandate regarding the question of whether and in what particular sense the Mosaic covenant is a republication of the Adamic covenant of works. Each of the four views outlined above speak to this question, albeit in different ways.

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.

Finally, with regard to the two interpretations of Kline’s view in this report, the first reading of Kline sees him holding out the Sinaitic covenant itself as a direct and non-redemptive republication of the Adamic covenant of works, adjusted to the temporal blessings within the land of Canaan. This reading of Kline views him as advocating substantial republication. The second reading of Kline understands him to advocate an indirect, redemptive reenactment of Adam’s sin and exile by Israel as a typological son of God. This reading of Kline views him as advocating administrative republication.

II. Outlining the Four Traditional Views

Most of these views have regularly been advocated by figures in the Reformed tradition, broadly considered, and in rival traditions.[102] While not every view outlined here has a “pure” advocate in their contemporary context, consideration of them will prove useful in the course of our analysis. A careful analysis of the polemical interaction between these traditional views reveals the basic questions at stake in the debate, as well as their importance to the basic structure of a Reformed doctrine of the covenant.

For the sake of brevity, we will adopt the following procedure as we survey the four traditional views of the Mosaic covenant. (We will slightly modify our format in the next chapters where we address the views of Kline.)

1. First, we will explain each view.

2. Second, we will identify its main proponents.

3. Third, we will isolate a key historic criticism(s) leveled against it.

Throughout this taxonomy, we are aiming here at clarity as opposed to comprehensiveness. In particular, we take a degree of liberty in seeking to highlight only one key historic criticism leveled against each view. These criticisms are noted primarily for taxonomic purposes in order to highlight the distinctives of each view in polemical engagement with the others. A later section will outline more fully the strengths and weaknesses of each view as we subject them to analysis in light of the system of doctrine contained in our doctrinal standards.

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

The first view is perhaps most clearly outlined and summarized by Francis Roberts in his taxonomic analysis of the subject: “I. Opinion That the Law given on Mount Sinai, was given as a Covenant of Works, not as a Covenant of Grace. And so the Asserter of this Opinion, makes the Old and New Testament, as the Covenant of Works and Grace, not only differing Gradually in some degree of Manifestation and Ministration, but also Opposite Specifically in Substance and in Kind.”[103] In other words, 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. Assembly member Anthony Burgess makes this point well when he contrasts what he calls the “Calvinist” and “Lutheran” approaches to the subject:

It is true,the Lutheran Divines, they doe expresly oppose theCalvinistsherein, maintaining the Covenant given byMoses,to be a Covenant of workes, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of grace. Indeed, they acknowledge thatthe Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us; onely they make that Covenant ofMosesto be a superadded thing to the Promise, holding forth a condition of perfect righteousness unto the Jewes, that they might be convinced of their owne folly in their self-righteousnesse.[104]

According to this first view, then, the way of salvation is the same for the fathers and for us, but the Mosaic covenant itself is not a covenant of saving grace. Saving grace was always present and available in the Mosaic era, but it was not available by means of the Mosaic covenant itself. The Mosaic covenant, per se, was a non-redemptive covenant in the sense that it did not administer saving grace.

Although this position was self-consciously adopted by scholastic Lutheranism, its basic features were also adopted by some of the Reformed. John Owen is an example of this phenomenon. While he was aware of the differences between the Lutherans and the Calvinists on this point, his exegesis of Hebrews around 1680 led him to a position closer to the Lutheran view than that of most Calvinists, arguing that the substance of the Mosaic covenant, in common with the substance of any OT covenant, was not formally a covenant of grace, but a promise of grace.[105] Francis Roberts also coordinated the view of the Reformed authors of the Leiden Synopsis with that of the Lutheran Johann Gerhard. This is not to say that Owen or the authors of the Leiden Synopsis were “Lutherans” or that their views on covenant theology were identical to the mainstream covenant theology of Lutheranism. It is simply to recognize that this view was generically associated in the seventeenth century with Lutheranism, while at the same time being self-consciously adopted by some (albeit a minority) of the Reformed.

As noted above, Roberts himself identifies the authors of the Synopsis Purioris (Leiden Synopsis), as well as the Lutheran theologian, Johann Gerhard as holding this view. Edward Fisher, in his Marrow of Modern Divinity, identifies Amandus Polanus, John Preston, and Westminster assembly member George Walker as holding this view.[106] Whether or not each of these ascriptions is accurate, they demonstrate a shared understanding among Reformed writers that variations of the substantial republication view could be found among most Lutheran and some Reformed divines. Nonetheless, it should be recognized that especially in the Reformed tradition theologians utilize language that suggests this view, but later qualify it in such a way as to raise questions about its precise sense.

A historic criticism of substantial republication pure and simple is that it seizes on upon those portions of Scripture which emphasize some form of antithesis between the Mosaic and new covenant (such as 2 Cor 3:6–7, Gal 4:23–24), and takes such passages to refer to the substance of each covenant. However, critics point out that such an understanding fails to account for the Scriptural data ascribing gracious elements to the Mosaic covenant.[107]

B. View 2: The Mosaic Covenant as a Mixed Covenant

Explaining the mixed covenant view poses a challenge not only in terms of its inherent complexity, but also the paucity of its proponents. It is difficult to find identifiable advocates in published writings. The main published primary source for this view is a work by George Walker entitled The Manifolde Wisdome of God. However, later theologians seem to have largely interacted with this view through a summary of it offered by John Ball. The two presentations of the mixed covenant view have some important differences, but both seem to affirm the distinctive element of the view, namely, that the covenants of works and grace were parts of the substance of the Mosaic covenant.

For example, Francis Roberts references Ball in his concise summary of the mixed covenant view: “II. Opinion. That the Law was given on Mount Sinai was a Mixt Covenant, Partly of Works, Partly of Grace.” Again, both Ball and Roberts (neither of whom held this view themselves) address it without naming any specific proponents. As summarized by them, 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 that stood in full opposition to the covenants of grace. This was the first giving of the law, which Moses inscribed in tablets of stone. After bringing them down to the people and then discovering the people worshipping the golden calf, Moses broke these tablets as a sign of their breaking this covenant. 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.[108]

We have not yet found an author who holds to the curious exegetical distinctives of the mixed covenant view as summarized above. It may be that those features of this view have been promoted from pulpits and not in print. The only possible candidate, George Walker’s The Manifolde Wisedome of God, captures the main theological outlines of this view.[109] Although he does not speak of “two givings of the law,” Walker does refer to the Mosaic covenant as “the mixt Covenant wchGod made with Israel on mount Horeb by the Ministery ofMoseswhich consisted partly of the Covenant of workes, and partly of the Covenant of grace.”[110] The key to this view is that it places the “mixture” of the two covenants at the essential or substantial level. As Walker argued:

The matter and substance of the Covenant made by the Ministery ofMoses,it was mixt, it was partly conditionall, and partly absolute; partly legall, and partly Evangelicall; it required to justification both workes and faith, but after a divers manner, and it was a mixt Covenant of two divers Covenants, both the Covenant of Workes, and the Covenant of Grace.[111]

Thus, the covenant of works is not simply an administrative element of this covenant, but a substantial element. The covenant of works was part of the “matter and substance” of the Mosaic covenant. This is the primary reason the mixed covenant view is classified as a form of substantial republication. Others in the tradition use terms like “mixture” in the context of their discussions of the Mosaic covenant, but imply nothing more by this than that there is some kind of administrative restatement of the covenant of works.[112] Admittedly, Walker’s own presentation is complicated, which may explain why the Marrow of Modern Divinity ascribes to him view 1. While he does speak of the covenant of works and grace being a part of the “matter” and “substance” of the covenant, he also sometimes speaks in a way that suggests that only the moral law is republished at Mt. Sinai.[113] Likewise, he also speaks of the fact that Israel “did still imagine themselves to be in a covenant of works,”[114] which suggests that some kind of “misinterpretive republication” (see below) plays a role in his view—at least in terms how Israel viewed their relation to this covenant.

Still, given the way he describes the covenant of works as being a “part” of the “substance of the covenant,” and that the Mosaic “Mix’t covenant” differs in “matter and substance” from the “pure and plaine covenant of the Gospel” it seems plausible to classify his views as a version of substantial republication.[115] According to his own presentation, the covenant of works is part of the substance of the Mosaic covenant. As we shall see below, many of Walker’s contemporaries did see the mixed covenant view as advocating a republication of the covenant of works in the substance of the Mosaic covenant. If this reading is correct, we can therefore view the mixed covenant positon as a version of substantial republication.

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. For this reason, Anthony Burgess dismisses it briefly in a terse statement: “Others call it a mixt covenantof works and grace; but that is hardly to be understood as possible, much lesse as true.”[116] Perhaps Thomas Blake’s analysis states the point most clearly and comprehensively:

Fourthly, this covenant (delivered byMosesand epitomized in the Decalogue) being a covenant of Grace, it could by no meanes be, in the whole and entire nature of it, a covenant of Works. This is plaine, God doth not at once, with the same people enter covenant upon so opposite termes. These areasusato, either of them destructive to the other, We may argue concerning the covenant, as the Apostle doth concerning Election,If by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace; but if it be of works, then it is no more grace, otherwise work is no more work.This I speak as for their sakes, that make it a mixt covenant, such a one asPaulsadversaries preacht in the Churches ofGalatia;so also for their sakes, that assert it to be a covenant of Works, never undertaking any answer to those arguments, which so clearly conclude it to be a covenant of Grace.[117]

Blake believes this argument applies to both those who view the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of works and a mixed covenant. The key criticism lies in a fundamental incoherence embedded in the view. Scripture (i.e. Rom 11:6) teaches that the doctrines of “works” and “grace” are so contrary that they cannot coexist as substantial principles in the same covenant.[118] This may be the reason that this view was not adopted by a great number of theologians.

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

The third view of the Mosaic covenant outlined in the traditional four-fold taxonomy is the “subservient covenant” view. 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.[119] The similarities and differences between these covenants are outlined in great detail by their proponents, but for the sake of simplicity they can be summarized in terms of their conditions and promises:

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

Thus, the subservient covenant could be defined as follows: “The Old Covenant is that, whereby God doth require from the people of Israel, obedience of the Morall, Ceremoniall, and Judiciall Law; and to as many as doe give it him, he promises all sorts of blessings in the possession of the land of Canaan; on the contrary, to as many as deny it him, he denounces, most severely, curses and death; and that for this end, that he might bring them to be Messias which was for to come.”[120] Thus, the subservient covenant is a third covenant distinct in kind from the covenants of nature and grace.

It seems clear that 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). John Cameron, for example, argued that the covenant of grace and the subservient covenant were to be distributed into their “severall kinds” (sua genera). This indicates a substantial distinction between the covenant of grace and the Mosaic covenant. When a covenant differs in “kind,” it also differs in substance. Likewise, Assembly member Samuel Bolton distinguishes the subservient covenant view from the idea that the Mosaic covenant was in substance a covenant of grace in the following words: “Yet it was not a Covenant of Works for salvation [view 1 above]; nor was it a third covenant from Workes and Grace [i.e., a subservient covenant]: but it was the same Covenant for nature and kinde, under which we stand in the Gospel.”[121] In other words, Bolton saw the idea that the Mosaic covenant was in substance a covenant of grace (which he elsewhere identifies as the majority view) as categorically and taxonomically distinct from his own. If our reading is correct, then the subservient covenant position is best described as a form of substantial republication, as opposed to a version of view 4 outlined below, because it made temporal blessings in Canaan obtainable on condition of perfect obedience to the moral, ceremonial and judicial laws of the Mosaic covenant.

Who advocated this position? John Cameron may have been the first to propose the subservient covenant as far back as 1608, but it was not widely known until the publication of his Opera in the 1630s. Moïse Amyraut and several theologians in France who were students of Cameron and associated with the Academy of Saumur took this position. In Britain, Samuel Bolton was the only member of the Westminster Assembly who publically and unequivocally advocated this position (writing around 1656), although fellow member Jeremiah Burroughs seems to have adopted something close to it in a sermon published in the mid-1640s. Thomas Goodwin also seems to take this view in a work published posthumously sometime after the assembly.[122]

This view sought to do justice with the uniqueness of the Mosaic covenant as presented in the Scriptures. Some proponents (like Bolton) recognized the theological problems with viewing the Mosaic covenant as simply a covenant of works (view 1 above). At the same time, they were not content with the view of most divines, who viewed it as being in substance a covenant of grace with a unique administration. Their proposed solution (i.e. a third covenant distinct from both) clearly sought to do justice to the uniqueness of this covenant in redemptive history.

What was a basic criticism of this view? As we will note later, the criticisms were various, but 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. Francis Roberts articulates this criticism in his survey of the subservient covenant view.[123] Although Roberts uses some technical language, his point is fairly simple. This view holds to three covenants different in “species” or “kind” (and thus differing in substance). The problem is that the covenant of works and the subservient covenant have the same basic stipulation regarding the moral law. This positions the covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant as part of the same “species” or “kind,” and is not sufficient to make them two substantially different covenants. For this reason, the distinction between the covenant of works and the subservient covenant appears “neither Logical nor Theological.”[124] Patrick Gillespie argues that to establish three kinds of covenants is “not only without all ground in the Scripture, but against the same.”[125] Furthermore, he says, “(I)t is impossible that there can be a third kind of Covenant that were of a distinct nature from both these, and which tendered righteousness and life upon some other terms then Works of Faith.”[126] In other words, the subservient covenant is indistinct, and does not differ substantially from the covenant of works, seeing that both require perfect obedience to the moral law.

Thus, many of the objections leveled against the first view (i.e., that the Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of works) were often leveled at this view as well. For all the distinctions the proponents of this view made between the covenant of works and the subservient covenant (Cameron listed thirteen differences), they still viewed “legal” obedience to the moral law as part of the basic condition of the covenant.[127]

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

The fourth position is the one which your committee understands to be the most commonly advocated among the Reformed. Indeed, Samuel Bolton (himself holding to a subservient covenant view) asserted that it was held by the greatest number of Reformed divines, and this kind of comment was not unusual.[128] 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. Some writers describe this as a “legal” administration of the covenant of grace.

This view is affirmed by the Westminster Confession of Faith. WCF 7.5–6 describes the covenant of grace being administered “under the law.” Likewise, it lists the “paschal lamb” as a means by which this covenant of grace was administered. Since the paschal lamb was a sacrament of the Mosaic covenant, it seems plausible to conclude that Mosaic covenant is in view. Furthermore, Larger Catechism 101 outlines the preface to the Decalogue in a way that defines the covenantal transaction at Sinai as substantially gracious in character. Thus, when the confession states that there is “one and the same” covenant of grace “under various dispensations,” one would be hard pressed to argue that the confession does not see the Mosaic covenant in substantial unity with this one and the same covenant of grace. Whatever else the confession may affirm about the Mosaic covenant, it seems difficult to argue that it does not affirm the Mosaic covenant is in essence a covenant of grace.

This view was advocated by a great many theologians in the mid-seventeenth century, including: John Ball, Anthony Burgess, Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Blake, Obadiah Sedgwick, Francis Turretin, among many others.[129]

What criticisms were leveled against this view? Interestingly, this view does not receive much programmatic criticism, although writers who take different positions will note their demurral from it. Perhaps the most extensive criticism of the position comes from the works of John Owen and Samuel Bolton.[130] Owen in particular bases his argument on the fact that the contrast between the old and new covenants in various passages of Scripture (2 Cor 3:6–9; Gal 4:24–26; Heb 7:22, 9:15–20) “can hardly be accommodated unto a twofold administration of the same covenant.”[131] Instead, such texts seem to require a substantial difference between old and new covenants. Owen’s line of thought is indicative of the basic criticism offered against the idea that the Mosaic covenant is in essence a covenant of grace. How is this view able adequately to account for those passages of Scripture which seem to indicate that this covenant possesses a strictly legal character, and therefore must differ not only in administration and degree, but in substance and kind from the covenant of grace?

To take one example from another Protestant tradition, Martin Chemnitz (a Lutheran theologian) takes issue with Martin Bucer and Calvin’s view that the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of grace. Appealing to many of the same texts as Owen (Jer 31:33, Gal 4:24–26, and 2 Cor 3:6–9) he asserts: “It is clearly evident that the matter and substance of these two covenants are not the same. For the teaching of the old covenant is the Law, but of the new the Gospel.”[132] He also contrasts his position with that of Calvin and Bucer: “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?”[133] His basic criticism of Calvin and Bucer’s view is that it does not adequately account for those passages which seem to indicate more than an administrative difference between the old and new covenants.

To be sure, proponents of the view that the Mosaic covenant is in essence a covenant of grace had numerous responses to this criticism, complete with a full engagement with all the biblical passages to which appeal was often made.[134] Here we simply note that the most basic and 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.

The following chart may prove useful in summarizing our discussion thus far.

Chart Summarizing the Four Views

Covenant of Works

Mixed Covenant

Subservient Covenant

Covenant of Grace uniquely administered

Explanation

Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of works, not a covenant of grace.

Mosaic covenant is in substance both a covenant of works and a covenant of grace.

Mosaic covenant is distinct in substance from both the covenants of works and grace, and serves a purpose subservient to the latter.

Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace. Legal elements belong to the administrative level.

Proponents

Lutherans, Amandus Polanus, John Preston

George Walker, anonymous divines

John Cameron, Moise Amyraut, Samuel Bolton

Majority view held by numerous divines (arguably affirmed in WCF)

Criticisms

(from other views)

Inadequate: does not account for gracious elements of Mosaic covenant.

Incoherent: combines incompatible elements of works and grace in essence of the covenant

Indistinct: does not adequately distinguish subservient covenant from covenant of works, thus falling into criticism of View 1.

Inadequate: does not account for alleged works elements in the substance of the Mosaic covenant itself.

III. Distinctions for Describing the Role of the Law on the Administrative Level

We have seen how views 1–3 outlined above all articulate a form of “republication.” In spite of their differences, they all have common cause in placing this “republication” of the Adamic covenant within the substance of the Mosaic covenant. That is why this report refers to them as versions of “substantial” republication. With views 1 and 3, this republication composed the sole essence of the covenant. In view 2, it was but part of the essence. View 4 can speak of the Mosaic covenant containing some form of a republication of the covenant of works. For this reason, this report refers to it as holding to an “administrative” or “accidental” republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant because two concerns are usually kept in view:

  1. First, the republication of the covenant of works is strictly relegated to the administration of the covenant, not its essence.
  2. Secondly, this administrative republication of the covenant of works never operates in a way that is contradictory to the essence of the covenant of grace.

Proponents of view number four utilized a number of distinctions to account for and to qualify the legal aspects of the administration of the Mosaic covenant. From a theological point of view, these distinctions were used as an attempt to bring systematic coherence and harmony to the relationship between law and grace. To borrow from the Westminster standards, they attempted to show how the law in its redemptive context “did sweetly comply with [the grace of the Gospel]” (WCF 19.7). From an exegetical point of view, these distinctions were utilized to account for those passages of Scripture which seemed to make the Mosaic covenant a covenant of works in kind, opposite the covenant of grace. These six distinctions are as follows.

First, the Reformed who adopted this view could distinguish between the law considered broadly, strictly, and most strictly. For example, Patrick Gillespie explained the distinction in detail. He distinguished between the Sinai covenant in three ways: (1) broadly, (2) strictly, and (3) most strictly. Broadly speaking, the Sinai covenant was the whole economy or dispensation of the Mosaic covenant inclusive of both the moral and ceremonial laws. Strictly speaking, the Sinai covenant could also be considered as simply the Decalogue given at Mt. Sinai with the preface, promises, and threatenings added to it. According to Gillespie, “In either of these respects, it was certainly a Covenant of Grace.” However, when we consider the law most strictly for the “meer perceptive part of the Law,” which “commanded perfect obedience” and was a “draught of the Law of nature,” the law of Mt. Sinai “in abstract consideration ... may be called a legal covenant of works.”[135] Thus, the Mosaic covenant ought to be considered essentially a covenant of grace, broadly or strictly. However, the law considered very strictly (i.e. the law itself abstracted from Moses’s economy) can be considered a covenant of works.

A second distinction was made between the matter and form of the moral law. Assembly member Obadiah Sedgwick articulates this distinction by considering the law in two ways: (1) in terms of the matter, and (2) as to the form or sanction of it as given to Israel. In the first sense, Sedgwick “grant[s] that therein the covenant of works is to be found.” However, it did not function this way for Israel, nor was it “given for this end to the people of Israel, to be a Covenant of works unto them (that is) such a Covenant upon, or from which they must expect life upon their doing.”[136]

Here we see an explanation of what has been called “material” republication and “formal” republication. For Sedgwick, there is overlap between the moral law and the covenant of works. The moral law functions in this covenant as the means of obtaining life. But he is clear that it was not given to Israel for this purpose. Like Patrick Gillespie, Sedgwick affirms that the moral law expresses the basic content of the covenant of works (i.e. the law), but argues that it did not function in this way to Israel at Sinai. In this sense, the content of the covenant of works (i.e., the moral law) is present as a part of the administration of that covenant, but the perfect observation of it does not constitute its essential condition.

Thus, a third distinction focused on the different “uses” or “purposes” of the law as it had been given at different times to human beings: the law as a covenant of works versus the law as a rule of life. This distinction is pervasive in seventeenth-century theologians, and is also found in our Confession of Faith. 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,” but that it is “of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life....” In each instance, the moral law remains the same, although its use and function differs.

The distinction and difference between these two functions of the law are helpfully explained by assembly member John Maynard (although similar statements can be found in a number of divines). The fullness and detail of his explanation warrants a full quotation:

For Answer to thesethings, consider,That the Law may be considered two wayes. 1. As a Covenant of works, severely requiring full and exact obedience and perfect righteousness upon pain of the Curse:and so Believers being in Christ, are not under the Law but under grace. The Lord hath reconciled them to himself in Christ, received them into a Covenant of grace, discharged them of the curse of the Law, and sentence of condemnation, justified and accepted them as righteous through the righteousness of Christ, given them access to his mercy seat, so that the Law is not made for a righteous man, as a covenant of works. Believers are not to be judged according to the rigour and severity of the Law, nor subject to the curse or condemnation of the Law, and therefore the Apostle saith,Christ hath redeemed us from the Curse of the Law, being made a Curse for us:but the lawless and disobedient natural persons, being out of Christ, and standing upon their own bottom, and so being to answer the justice of God upon their own account, are under the Law as a Covenant of works, and subject to the malediction, Curse and condemnation of the Law. Secondly, The Law may be considered as a Rule of life, as a direction to true Believers, guiding them in the wayes of God, teaching them how they ought to walk and to please God,how to walk answerably to his saving mercies, and spiritual blessings communicated to them in Christ:and in this regard the Law is established by Christ, for the use of his people; and so I conceive in this sense, the Law is so far from being a Covenant of works, that it becometh a part of the Covenant of grace, or a Rule subservient to the Gospel.So the Apostle telleth the believing Thessalonians, Ye know what Commandments we gave you by the Lord Iesus,the Commandments which he delivered to them were given by the Lord Jesus, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, by vertue of his Authority and Commission received from him? Now what Commandments were these? Even the same that are delivered in the Law, in some of which the Apostle giveth instance: First in general,This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should be sanctified,and so conformed to the Law of God in all things.[137]

Note especially how Maynard not only distinguishes these two functions, but also highlights their contrariety. The law is “established by Christ for the use of his people” as a rule of life that it is “so far from being a Covenant of works, that it becometh part of the Covenant of grace.” According to Maynard, the two do not function together in this fashion in the life of a believer. 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. The distinction is important in the Reformed tradition more broadly and our standards specifically.

Fourth, Reformed theologians could distinguish between the “making” of the covenant of works with Israel and the mere “declaration” of that covenant. For example, assembly member William Bridge argues that the Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace with aunique administration. Within this framework, he argues that although “both these covenants [i.e. of works and grace] were at once in the Jewish church, the one [was] declared and the other made with them.”[138] Some decades later, Herman Witsius would seem to make use of this distinction in his discussion of the Mosaic covenant when he writes: “Though the covenant of works was delivered at Sinai, Gal. iv. 24. yet it was not made with the Jews.”[139] Turretin also utilizes a form of this distinction when he describes the administration of the Mosaic covenant as being “clothed in the form of a covenant of works through the harsh promulgation of the law; not indeed that a covenant of works might again be demanded of a sinner [for this was impossible], but that a daily recollection and reproaching of the violated covenant of works might be made.”[140] 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. Instead, it serves to communicate the grace of “conviction of sin,” and constantly shut them up and keep them in the promises of the covenant of grace.

Fifth, the Reformed could also distinguish between the intent of God in giving the law versus the intent of Israel in using the law. Obadiah Sedgwick explains this as follows: “You must distinguish twixt: I. The intention of God in Giving the Law, and 2ly the abuse or perverting the law. I do grant that many of the Jews did set up a Legal Righteousness for the justifications and rested upon the works of the Law, as if life came by them (against which the Apostle Paul doth notably argue in his Epistle to the Romans, and to the Galatians). But this was not the intention of God in the Sanction of the law.”[141] 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.

Finally, a distinction was also made between the Mosaic covenant itself and the law abstracted from the covenant. Turretin appears to utilize this distinction in the following paragraph:

The Mosaic covenant may be viewed in two aspects:either according to the intention and design of Godand in order to Christ; or separately and abstracted from him. In the latter way, it is really distinct from the covenant of grace because it coincides with the covenant of works and in this sense is called the letter that killeth and the ministration of condemnation, when its nature is spoken of (2 Cor. 3:6, 7). But it is unwarrantably abstracted here because it must always be considered with the intention of God, which was, not that man might have life from the law or as a sinner might be simply condemned, but that from a sense of his own misery and weakness he might fly for refuge to Christ...The law is said “to be not of faith” (Gal. 3:12), not as taken broadly and denoting the Mosaic economy, but strictly as taken for the moral law abstractly and apart from the promises of grace(asthe legalists regarded itwho sought life from it).[142]

Here, Turretin makes use of the misinterpretation principle as well as the principle of abstraction to explain how the covenant of works can be seen in the Mosaic covenant. Although the basic content of the covenant of works is objectively present in the moral, and there is also a formal declaration of the broken covenant of works, the only way in which it becomes a covenant of works to Israel is by their misinterpretation of it. For this reason, the misinterpretation theory would be better classified as a form of “accidental” republication. Its presence is wholly accidental to God’s actual intention.

Many of these distinctions represent various forms of “accidental” or “administrative” republication. None of them qualify as “substantial” republication because they are not contained as part of the essential nature of a specific covenant in the Mosaic economy. Instead the presence of a “covenant of works” is restricted to the administration of the covenant. In other words, the grace of Christ is administered by and in this re-declaration of the covenant of works and/or its basic content in the moral law. It is organically connected to the fundamentally gracious essence which it is designed to administer.

IV. Summary and Analysis

With this fourfold taxonomy before us, together with the distinctions utilized by View 4, we are in a better position to map out the possible senses of “republication” within the consensus systematic framework of the Reformed orthodox.

1. In broadest terms, there are really only two basic options in formulating a doctrine of “republication.” The republication of the covenant of works is either part of the substance of the Mosaic covenant (as is the case with Views 1–3, in varying degrees), or it is simply part of the administration of that covenant (as is the case with some variants of View 4). This we call “substantial republication” and “administrative” or “accidental” republication.

2. More narrowly, those that adopt view 4 utilize a number of important distinctions to clarify how its administration can contain a republication of the covenant of works. The concern here is to safeguard the gracious essence of the covenant, and to ensure that its unique administrative features do not contradict that fundamentally gracious substance. 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

The taxonomy outlined above encourages us to ask a variety of questions that can aid us in analyzing various understandings of the Mosaic covenant. They include the following:

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

These are broad questions. But they do provide entry points to conversations that are rooted in our tradition’s discussion of the matter, and that are useful in systematically sorting out our present debate.

Ch. 6 – Strengths and Weaknesses of the Various Views

In this chapter we will attempt to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the varieties of republication outlined in our taxonomy. In light of our mandate, it is important to remember that we subscribe not simply to a disconnected set of Christian doctrines. Our officers subscribe to the system of doctrine contained in our standards. This form of subscription brings into view points of doctrine specifically in terms of their systematic interrelationship and coherence. While not ignoring important exegetical considerations, nor issues related to specific articles or affirmations in our standards, our assessment of the varieties of republication will focus on the question of systematic consistency with our confession of faith and catechisms.

Furthermore, we should also note that several views outlined here fit into the broader category of what we have referred to as “substantial republication.” While views 1–3 and one reading of Kline each have distinct characteristics that give them each a unique identity, all of them share in common the idea that the Mosaic covenant is in some way a substantial covenant of works (or at least a covenant of the “works” variety). Because of this, many criticisms which specifically focus on the existence of a substantial covenant of works between God and Israel can be applied to every variety of substantial republication. We note this fact where it seems particularly relevant. But for the sake of space, we will not fully repeat each criticism under each heading.

I. Covenant of Works “Pure and Simple”

The first view outlined in our taxonomy was the idea that the Mosaic covenant was in substance a covenant of works “pure and simple.” In this view the Mosaic covenant is described absolutely and in itself as essentially a republication or renewal of a covenant which promises eternal life for perfect, personal, perpetual obedience. Put relatively or comparatively, the Sinai covenant and the new covenant differ not only in administration, but also in substance or kind. The greatest strength of this view is that it seeks to account theologically for those passages of Scripture which strongly contrast the ideas of “law” and “grace” in the context of the Mosaic covenant. Its primary weakness is that it fails to account adequately for those portions of Scripture which point to the substantially gracious character of the Mosaic covenant, a fact which underlies the presentation in our standards.

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.[143] The only differences affirmed are those that regard the “administration” or outward “dispensation.” The standards also directly address the nature of the Sinai covenant transacted in the Decalogue in its exposition of the preface. The preface reminds God’s people that “he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people” (LC 101). In this respect, the covenantal relationship revealed in the Decalogue also bestows essentially the same covenantal benefit upon Israel as it does to us. In this respect, the catechism connects the typological connection between Israel’s redemption from Egypt and our deliverance from “spiritual thralldom.” It goes on to state that the same obligation to obedience laid upon Israel in this covenant arrangement is also placed upon us: “and that therefore we are bound to take him as our God and keep all his commandments.” In this respect, the standards affirm that the Sinai covenant was in itself a substantially gracious and redemptive covenant.[144] To affirm that the Sinai covenant itself was a covenant of works is to affirm the opposite of what is affirmed in our standards. This is a significant weakness for view 1 in terms of the system of doctrine contained in our standards.

Secondly, another theological weakness emerges when one considers the specific contours of the doctrine of the covenant of works as outlined in our standards and received in the Reformed tradition. Specifically, a theological weakness emerges when we consider the idea of the unrepeatability of the covenant of works. By “unrepeatable” we do not mean that God cannot restate or declare the terms of this covenant in the course of redemptive history. There are innumerable instances in the tradition where the covenant of works or moral law is said to be “repeated” at Mt. Sinai in this more limited sense. We have elsewhere referred to this as “declarative republication.” Instead, by “unrepeatable” we mean that 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.[145] This is a concern registered by many in the Reformed tradition. Here we simply note a few representative figures for the sake of illustration.

Samuel Bolton, who articulates a subservient covenant view, makes this point. He argues that if one considers the “nature of a covenant of works, you will see plainly an impossibility that the Law should be a covenant of works.”[146] Not only is the covenant of works made “between two friends” (where fallen man is now an enemy of God), man is unable to fulfill it even “to the lowest terms, to perform the meanest condition.”[147] Simply stated, the covenant of works “is a covenant no way capable of renovation; if you once broke it, you were gone forever.”[148] The covenant of works is unchangeable, and its penalty is so irrevocable that it can “in no way” (to borrow Bolton’s language) be renewed with the sinner.[149] Herman Witsius argues that the covenant of works “is so really abrogated, that it can on no account be renewed.” The basic issue is that God cannot make a covenant of works with sinful man, for this covenant presupposes that man be perfect.[150] Francis Roberts makes the same point more graphically: “As Virginity once lost, can never be recovered; so the Covenant of works once violated, can never be repaired.”[151] Sinful mankind has been “rendered uncapeable of any Covenant of works” (note the similarity to the language of WCF 7.3) and is thus unable to fulfill or even enter into such a covenant with God.

These observations are the application of key aspects of our system of doctrine to the idea that the Mosaic covenant is simply a covenant of works renewed with Israel. As our Confession states, man can no longer fulfill its terms and made himself incapable of life by this covenant, and God’s justice precludes entering into such an arrangement with an already sinful entity (WCF 7.3). The moral law itself functions to convince man of his “total disability to keep it” (LC 95). Add to this the fact that the covenant of works contained the irrevocable threat of eternal death for disobedience (WCF 19.1). The penalty of the covenant of works seems to preclude its actual renewal with mankind. A renewal in the sense of a direct reenactment of an arrangement that is in substance or kind a “covenant of works” with Israel does not easily harmonize with these important theological points. Taken together, they express the core of the idea of the unrepeatability of this covenant.[152]

Finally, another potential weakness of view 1 appears when we consider the nature and attributes of the God who transacts this covenant with Israel. Scripture presents the Sinai covenant as a manifestation a full array of divine attributes. Perhaps most telling are those aspects of biblical revelation which reveal positive communicable attributes, such as his patience, compassion, mercy, grace, goodness, love, and forgiveness (as well as his justice). These are perhaps best encapsulated in the divine saying through Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exod 34:6–7; cf. Num 14:8, etc.). In other words, in transacting the Sinaitic covenant there was a full revelation of the divine nature, particularly that which is expressive of and summed up in the covenant of grace with his redeemed people. A substantial republication of the covenant of works in the Sinaitic covenant does not naturally harmonize with this biblical data. How can a non-gracious covenant that (after the fall) reveals nothing except God’s wrath and judgment for sin preeminently reveal these redemptive attributes? How can a renewed covenant of works with fallen man preeminently reveal (with advanced redemptive-historical clarity) these redemptive attributes of God?

Again, it is important to recognize that the issue is not whether proponents of republication affirm an orthodox doctrine of God’s nature and attributes. Few historic proponents of substantial republication have anything less than an impeccable doctrine of God. Rather, the question focuses on the consistency of some versions of republication (particularly those of the “substantial” variety) with those attributes. This issue has been raised in historic discussions of republication. For example, Obadiah Sedgwick argues that “to put sinners under contradictions, is no way suitable with the wisdom and goodnesse of God.” According to him, “to set up a Covenant of works for sinners, after he hath set up a covenant of grace” would put a sinner under such a contradiction.[153] Later he argues that republication is inconsistent with God’s attribute of kindness: “It would have been a strange kindnesse in God” to redeem them from Egypt, and then make a covenant of works with them in which “they should never have found mercy, nor salvation.” [154] In other words, substantial republication is inconsistent with the fundamentally gracious way God must relate to his sinful people in the postlapsarian context. Even as God’s justice requires that sin must be punished (Heidelberg Catechism, 11–12), it also prohibits that a substantial covenant of works be renewed with a sinner.

Above we have highlighted weaknesses of this view regarding moral attributes of God. Others point to inconsistencies with God’s incommunicable attributes. For example, Francis Roberts argues that republication is inconsistent with the immutability of God. According to him, it is “absurd to imagine” that God would make a covenant of works with Adam in creation and then a covenant of grace after his fall, only to reinstitute a covenant of works at Sinai until Christ, after which the covenant of grace is renewed again. For Roberts, this “is fast and loose, backwards and forwards, and makes God very inconsistent with himself.”[155] This trail of thought is also followed by Peter Bulkeley. He argues that “if it had been a covenant of workes which God made with Israel at Mount Sinai, then should he have called them from a covenant of grace, to a covenant of workes, from a covenant of life, to a covenant which now (in the estate of corruption) ministers nothing but death, which is contrary to the Apostle, Gal. 3.17.” In his view, “This were to make the Lord goe from a covenant of grace to a covenant of workes, and it were the same in effect, as to make them perfect by the flesh, when the Lord had begun with them in the spirit, Gal. 3.3. God carries on his people from faith to faith, from grace to grace, and not from grace to workes.” [156] These criticisms are applied to “substantial republication” insofar as they reinstitute and place Israel under an operative covenant of works that is not gracious. Such a movement could be open to the objection that it is a movement “backwards” in redemptive history, rather than a progressive development.

Finally, a weakness of view 1 arises when we consider the sacraments annexed to the Mosaic covenant. Both Scripture and our standards speak of circumcision and the paschal lamb as sacraments of the Sinai covenant and as an aspect of the ceremonial law (WCF 7.5; cf. 8.6 19.3). Certainly the covenant of works had sacraments (the two trees in the midst of the garden).[157] But circumcision and the paschal lamb are indisputably redemptive and gracious in character. According to our standards, the sacraments of the old and new covenants “in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same” (WCF 27.5). These spiritual things are clearly redemptive benefits that flow from and are rooted in the covenant of grace. Simply stated, 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.[158]

II. Mixed Covenant

As noted above, the greatest strength of the concept of the mixed covenant is that it recognizes and attempts to deal with the complexity of Scripture which gives the Mosaic covenant both legal and evangelical aspects. However, its greatest strength also became a significant weakness, as its attempt to harmonize these elements involved placing both a covenant of works and a covenant of grace in the substance of the Mosaic covenant. Thus, the main weakness of the position is focused on the question of the exegetical and theological coherence of these two affirmations. How is it that one covenant can be both a covenant of works and a covenant of grace in its essence or substance?

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. This is perhaps most pointedly seen when we consider the condition annexed to each of these covenants: works (i.e., perfect, personal obedience) or faith. There is a sense in which faith is required in the covenant of works, and works are required in the covenant of faith.[159] But in the matter of obtaining a declaration of righteousness before God, works and faith are not only different, but incompatible: “If it is by faith, it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom 11:6).[160] Even as works and faith cannot cooperate together in the obtaining or procurement of justification, so also they cannot coexist as essential elements of the same covenant.[161] To include “works” in the substance of the covenant is to overthrow the nature of grace, however small a role works may be given.[162]

III. Subservient Covenant

Like views 1–2, the subservient covenant position attempts to account robustly for the “legal” aspects of the Sinai covenant by placing them in the substance of the covenant. However, it differs from them both in modifying both the condition and the promise in such a way as to constitute (in the minds of its proponents) a third kind of covenant distinct from both the covenant of nature (or works) and the covenant of grace. 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.[163]

However, as many in the tradition have argued, 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.[164] In the end, the subservient covenant seems to make the Sinai covenant a kind of modified covenant of works with only “accidental” or non-substantial differences to the covenant of nature.

Insofar as the subservient covenant position holds to a kind of substantial republication of the covenant of works, it is subject to many of the same weaknesses outlined under view 1 above. In particular, 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. It is difficult to see how a proponent of the subservient covenant view could comfortably affirm these theological points in a way consistent with his position.[165] Moreover, when we consider the theological importance some proponents of the subservient covenant view ascribed to this aspect of their theological system, it is also difficult to see how they would remain content with its absence.[166]

Furthermore, this view is hampered by its insistence that the subservient covenant is a third kind of covenant, distinct in species from both the covenants of works and grace. Scripture regularly distinguishes two essential or basic kinds of covenants between God and man, and these two are affirmed by our confession—a covenant of works and a covenant of grace. On this point, Turretin helpfully notes that “Scripture tells us of only two covenants, nowhere however of three.” Moreover, he argues that “there can be so many and no more covenants of obtaining happiness and communion with God” (the proper end of a covenant with God), only two of which are taught in Scripture: by works or by faith.[167] In the end, proponents of the subservient covenant position seem to recognize the theological problems with asserting that the Mosaic covenant is a substantial republication of the covenant of works. But 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). [168] The addition of stipulations regarding the ceremonial and judicial law do not negate this substantial continuity between the covenant of works and the subservient covenant.

Finally, we might also highlight a weakness of the subservient covenant position as it relates to the function of typology. By adding obedience to the ceremonial law to the essential condition of the covenant, the subservient covenant position gives Mosaic typology a fundamentally works-based character, rather than an evangelical one. Proponents did not deny that these various types also signified spiritual benefits, but they insisted that they only did so “secondarily” or indirectly, while their primary reference was to temporal things promised in the covenant.[169] From a confessional viewpoint, the basic weakness here is that it reverses the true biblical priority of Christ as the substance and primary signification of these types and shadows. According to our standards, the purpose of these various types and ordinances was to function as an aspect of the covenant of grace, being means of administering the eternal and salvific blessings procured by Christ (WCF 7.5, 8.6, 17.5). He is the “substance” of the types and ordinances (not merely their secondary referent), even as he is the substance of God’s covenant of grace (WCF 7.6), while all else remains secondary or accidental. The subservient covenant effectively reverses this in insisting that these types primarily signify temporal benefits, and only secondarily signify Christ. As John Cameron stated, the subservient covenant leads to Christ only “indirectly” whereas the covenant of grace leads to him directly.[170] It is difficult to harmonize the idea that Christ was the “substance” of all these types and ordinances and at the same time only their secondary referent.

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. At the same time, it has not gone without criticism by theologians in other traditions as well as in our own. We noted above that the chief objection to this position is that it does not do justice to the sharp law-grace contrast Scripture seems to make between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant (or covenant of grace). In other words, reducing the differences between the Sinai covenant and the new covenant to merely matters of administration was thought to be theologically inadequate to account for these sharp contrasts. Simply stated, how can that be a covenant a grace which the Scriptures refer to (in their interpretation) 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). Put another way, the differences between the Sinai covenant and the new covenant are matters of degree and “accidents” which do not constitute a change in substance or kind. We have outlined elsewhere a variety of distinctions that were utilized by proponents of view 4 to account for these differences, particularly with regard to the function of the law in the Mosaic covenant.

Insofar as this view is affirmed by our standards and reflected in various aspects of its system of doctrine, it is difficult to outline its confessional weaknesses. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that some presentations of this view do face certain weaknesses. In particular, the view that we have referred to as the “misinterpretation” theory has sometimes been articulated in such a way as to deny the requirement of perfect obedience in the moral law. In other words, Paul’s references to the law’s requirement for perfect obedience exist only in the minds of the Judaizers, and are not in some way expressed in the content of the Decalogue itself. This presentation of the misinterpretation theory sees the law’s requirement of perfect obedience existing only subjectively in the minds of the Jews, rather than objectively in the law itself. Still others have moved from this point to a denial of the substantial difference between the covenants of works and grace, thus blurring the covenantal law-Gospel contrast and altering the theological basis for justification by faith alone. Surely these are errors to be avoided.

A better way to articulate the misinterpretation position is to recognize that while the law itself always requires perfect obedience, it can also have several functions and uses in this regard. Clearly, as the law in its demand for perfect obedience can function as the ground or basis of justification, it is expressive of a covenant of works (WCF 7.2, 19.1, etc.). However, by informing God’s people of the requirement of perfection, it can also function as a means to convict God’s people of their imperfection. Still further, the law in this way can also function as a rule of life to God’s people, showing them what they must always strive for in their life of sanctification, even though they will only realize the law’s perfection in their sanctification in glory.[171] In other words, this articulation of the misinterpretation position distinguishes between the law in itself and the use or function of the law. While it affirms that the Judaizers abused the law in its use, it recognizes that the law itself always requires perfect obedience.

Another weakness of view 4 as it has traditionally been formulated is that it faces exegetical difficulties in various passages of Scripture which set the old and new covenants in direct contrast with each other. At times Scripture uses language to describe the differences between these covenants which seem difficult to reduce to the “administrative” level. Although we believe that the language of “administration” remains adequate in accounting for their exegetical emphases, it should not be done as a way to avoid exegetical engagement with these difficult passages. An appeal to the substance-administration distinction should not be used as a dogmatic “short-cut” to bypassing the text of Scripture. Rather, with our standards, Reformed exegetes should acknowledge that some administrations of the covenant of grace are expressed in marked differences in form (WCF 7.6).

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

In this section of the report we offer an interpretation of M. G. Kline that understands him to be articulating a variety of a substantial republication of the covenant of works. In order to make this case, we identify four distinct lines of his argument that lend weight to classifying his views as a form 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. In what follows, we discuss each in turn.

The first trail of thought that leads readers to view Kline as an advocate of substantial republication lies in the way Kline describes the nature of the Mosaic covenant itself. In By Oath Consigned, one of Kline’s early books, he utilizes a distinction between the Mosaic order and the Sinaitic covenant itself. He affirms that 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.”[172] In this context he speaks of the “difference” between this Sinaitic covenant and the covenant of grace as “radical.” He also refers to Paul’s “radical assessment of the nature of the Sinaitic Covenant as something opposite to promise and faith.”[173] Kline further states that in this way the “Sinaitic Covenant” can be viewed “as a separate entity with a character of its own.” These statements directly address the nature or substance of the Sinai covenant in itself. Taken together, they suggest that Kline does view the Sinaitic covenant as a separate covenant, distinct in nature from the covenant of grace.

Kline’s later works maintain similar emphases when describing the nature of the Sinai covenant. In Kingdom Prologue, Kline argues that the “typal kingdom of the old covenant” was a covenant “governed by the works principle.” [174] In this “Israel as the theocratic nation was mankind stationed once again in a paradise-sanctuary, under probation in a covenant of works.”[175] 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. In God, Heaven and Har Magedon (Kline’s last work), this same theme is highlighted. There he argues that in the Mosaic era, 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 (Gal. 3–4; Rom. 10:5, 6).”[176] Later in the work he explicitly identifies this as the “Sinaitic covenant of works” and the “Torah covenant of works.”[177] Significantly, this works principle did not apply to “individual, eternal salvation”[178] but “was rather the governing principle in the typological sphere.”[179] Nonetheless, these lines of argument focus on the nature of the Sinai covenant itself, which Kline’s later writings consistently identify as being a works covenant in contrast to a covenant of grace.

The second strand of Kline’s teaching that supports the thesis that he understands the Mosaic covenant to be a substantial republication of the covenant of works is found in his discussion of covenantal contrasts. The first line of thought focused on the Sinai covenant absolutely and in itself. This second line of thought focuses on the Sinaitic covenant relatively, and in comparison with other covenants that are in principle or substance grace arrangements. In By Oath Consigned Kline speaks of the Sinaitic covenant as being characterized by a “radical” difference, “opposite to promise and faith,” “opposite in principle to inheritance by guaranteed promise,” and “opposite in principle to inheritance by guaranteed promise.”[180] He also speaks of the “radical opposition of the law covenant of Sinai to the principle of inheritance by promise” and, reflecting on Galatians 3, the fact that “Paul identified the Sinaitic Covenant, in radical contrast to the promise given earlier to the patriarchs, as law.”[181]

In Kingdom Prologue, Kline states this contrast clearly and concisely: “The old covenant was law, the opposite of grace-faith, and in the postlapsarian world that meant it would turn out to be an administration of condemnation as a consequence of sinful Israel’s failure to maintain the necessary meritorious obedience.”[182]

Thus, on this interpretation of Kline, the parallels between Eden and Sinai mutually reinforce the works character of each covenant in opposition to the covenant of grace. He continues,

Likewise, the identification of God’s old covenant with Israel as one of works points to the works nature of the creational covenant. Here we can only state a conclusion that study of the biblical evidence would substantiate, but the significant point is that the old covenant with Israel, though it was something more, was also a re-enactment (with necessary adjustments) of mankind’s primal probation—and fall. It was as the true Israel, born under the law, that Christ was the second Adam. This means that the covenant with the first Adam, like the typological Israelite re-enactment of it, would have been a covenant of law in the sense of works, the antithesis of the grace-promise-faith principle.[183]

Insofar as the Sinaitic covenant was by nature a re-enactment of the original covenant of works with Adam, it stood in antithetical relationship to the grace-promise-faith principle of the covenant of grace. The contrast between the two covenants is not simply formal or administrative, but lies instead in the nature and essential principle governing and constituting the specific covenant arrangements. Perhaps more significantly, the “works” character of the old covenant theologically underscores the “works” character of the Adamic and Sinai covenant alike as by nature covenants of works.

In God, Heaven and Har Magedon, the same strand of argument can be identified. Within the Mosaic order there is a “separate second tier” that was 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).”[184] Note how the relative relationship between these two arrangements is referred to as one of “opposition.” The Torah covenant of works, as it governed the typological kingdom, is described as being in “sharp contrast” to the new covenant. Specifically, the Torah covenant of works (governing the typological kingdom) was “breakable” and “in fact... broken by Israel.”[185] The breakability of the covenant is proof that it was “informed by the works principle of inheritance.”[186] On the other hand, the new covenant would be “unbreakable; it would be an administration of gospel grace and forgiveness.”[187] These statements (and others like them) support the idea that Kline holds out a Sinaitic covenant substantially different from covenants of grace-faith-promise.

Thirdly, a contrast in substance between the Sinaitic covenant itself and the covenant of grace is underscored in the respective roles Kline assigns to the oaths of ratification in each covenant. Simply stated, in Kline’s view, covenants that are of “works” are identified by the fact that the ratificatory oath is sworn by the human party of the covenant. Grace or promise covenants, on the other hand, are arrangements in which the divine oath ratifies the covenant.

Kline first outlined this paradigm in By Oath Consigned. Kline argues that there are two basic kinds of covenant, each corresponding to the different function of the oaths of ratification within them: “It is this swearing of the ratificatory oath that provides an identification mark by which we can readily distinguish in the divine covenants of Scripture between a law covenant and one of promise. For it is evident that if God swears the oath of the ratification ceremony, that particular covenantal transaction is one of promise, whereas if man is summoned to swear the oath, the particular covenant thus ratified is one of law.”[188]

Kline sees this principle at work in the Sinaitic and Abrahamic covenants. For example, in explaining why Paul identified the Sinaitic covenant “so exclusively in terms of law,” Kline isolates the fact that “there was only the human oath, giving covenant form to the law which Israel swore to obey.”[189] As he stated earlier, the Sinaitic covenant was “a covenant of law in opposition to promise because there was ... a virtual synonymity of covenant and oath, and because the Sinaitic Covenant had been ratified by human oath alone.”[190]

Thus, in Kline’s view, the Sinaitic covenant itself (that was “ratified by human oath alone” at Mt. Sinai) was a law covenant or a covenant of works, in contrast to the Abrahamic covenant of promise, a covenant of grace. In his own words, “In contrast to his classification of the Sinaitic Covenant as law, Paul placed God’s covenantal dealings with Abraham in the category of promise...It was, moreover, by this ritual of the divine oath that God’s covenant relationship to Abraham was first formally established.... The Sinaitic Covenant, on the other hand, was ratified in the original instance and, indeed, exclusively by the oath of the Israelite vassal; and it was evidently by reason of this difference that Paul identified the Sinaitic Covenant, in radical contrast to the promise given earlier to the patriarchs, as law.”[191]

It is difficult to consider how Kline could have stated the difference between the two covenants more strongly. If this reading is correct, then the contrast is not merely administrative, but consists precisely in what essentially constitutes a covenant arrangement, i.e., the party that takes the ratificatory oath. Indeed, the difference between the Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants is one of “radical contrast.” These same lines of thought continue in his later works, such as Kingdom Prologue: “More precisely, in the situation after the Fall it is the presence or absence of a human oath of ratification that provides the clue as to the governing principle, for divine oath is at least implicit in the ratification of all divine-human covenants, whether of works or grace. If the covenant is ratified by divine oath alone, it is a covenant of grace, either saving or common. But when the covenant-making includes a human oath of ratification, as in the case of Israel’s oath in the Sinaitic Covenant (Exod 24), the arrangement is informed by the works principle.”[192]

For some reason, in his later works this theme is not emphasized as heavily as it was in Kline’s earlier work. Nonetheless it is still possible to see its footprints in God, Heaven and Har Magedon. There Kline notes that the Abrahamic covenant is identified by Paul “as a covenant informed by the principle of promise, the opposite of the principle of works that was operative in the Law.”[193] Highlighting the manner of the ratification of the Abrahamic Covenant, Kline points to the fact that “it is the Lord God who makes the solemn oath commitment that ratifies the covenant,” and in this way “manifests its grace character.”[194]

A fourth reason why Kline’s views have been read as a form of substantial republication lies in the way that he describes the meritorious conditionality of the Sinai covenant. The idea of “merit” as an integral part of the Adamic or Sinai covenant arrangements does not appear as a strong emphasis in Kline’s writings until the 1970s. It is perhaps most tersely and concisely expressed in the following oft-cited paragraph in Kingdom Prologue:

Such divine demand for godliness is therefore found in covenants of works and grace alike. The precise kind of conditionality carried by the imposed obligations differs, however, in these two types of covenant.
In distinguishing the two varieties of conditionality the key question is that of the function of the response of obedience. If the obedience functions as the meritorious ground of reception or retention of the kingdom blessings, the conditionality is that of the works principle, the opposite of the principle of grace. Obedience functions that way in the eternal covenant of the Father and Son, in the Covenant of the Creator with Adam, and in the Mosaic Covenant at the level of the typological kingdom.[195]

This paragraph obviously raises important questions regarding merit as it functions in Kline’s version of republication. This point is addressed at greater length elsewhere in the report. The point we wish to raise here is how the contrasting conditionality of the principles of works and grace indicates and underscores what appears to be a substantial contrast between these two types of covenants. At the core of Kline’s notion of conditionality within the Mosaic covenant there is a specific version of conditionality—a conditionality of works—that stands in clear antithesis to the conditionality of the covenant of grace. Structurally speaking, on this interpretation of Kline, the “merit” of Adam, of Christ, and of Israel are systemically coordinated as subsets of the same category. This presence of merit indicates a substantial continuity in the cases of Adam, Israel, and Christ. Each arrangement (Adam, Israel, and Christ) is governed by the same covenant structure with the same form of conditionality. In other words, the meritorious conditionality is indicative of a substantial republication of the covenant of works under Moses.

The four strands of teaching adduced for this interpretation of Kline indicate to many readers that he teaches a form of substantial republication. Kline himself freely speaks of the complex relation between works and grace within the Mosaic economy. He does not deny that grace is present in the Mosaic period, nor the fact that grace underlies the Sinai covenant of works probation. He also restricts the works principle to the temporal kingdom of Canaan, and rejects the idea that there was a different way of salvation under the Mosaic era. Nonetheless this does not remove the fact that on this interpretation the Sinai covenant itself is substantially and by nature governed by a basic principle that is decidedly not gracious. It distinctively reflects the substantial principles of a covenant-of-works probation in contrast to a covenant of grace. In these paragraphs, then, and in others like them, 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

Introduction

Gaining clarity on M. G. Kline’s theology of the Mosaic covenant is the primary focus of this chapter. Kline offers a complex account of the “the works principle and the typal kingdom” in the Mosaic covenant—the nuances of which can be easily overlooked in a simplistic account of his theological perspective. [196]

The works surveyed below span the range of Kline’s publishing career, from his earlier work in Treaty of the Great King (1963) to his final published book, God, Heaven and Har Magedon (2006). A guide for understanding Kline, borne out by a careful reading of his entire corpus, is that his biblical theology of the covenant of grace does not undergo any substantial alteration. Rather, from his earliest works up until his final work, a basic point of continuity emerges.

The point is that 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. The works principle originally operative in the Garden of Eden tethered Adam’s perfect obedience to eschatological inheritance. The principle that binds representative obedience to inheritance is redemptively re-expressed, with substantial modifications, through Abraham (cf. Gen 22:16–18; 26:5). Abraham’s imperfect, Spirit-wrought obedience is tethered to the acquisition of the typal inheritance in a way that both underwrites the redemptive character of national Israel’s obedience (preserving the typal inheritance) and supplies a prophetic type of the perfect obedience of Christ (who obtains the eschatological inheritance).

In this way the works principle, modified as it is through Abraham and adjusted to the realities of sin and redemption, passes into Israel’s theocracy at the national level. Israel’s obedience maintains the typal kingdom, whereas Israel’s disobedience forfeits the same (cf. Lev 26; Deut 28). 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. Accordingly, Israel as typical son reenacted Adam’s sin on a large scale, adjusted to the typological features of redemptive history, by forfeiting the provisional land-inheritance of Canaan. Thus, the works principle that originally tethered eschatological inheritance to sinless obedience is redemptive historically recalibrated through Abraham, adjusted to the concerns of redemptive typology, and in that adjusted form enters into the theocracy of Israel at the national level. Readings of Kline that do not account for this basic insight as the context for determining the nature of the works principle with Abraham and national Israel will trend toward a lack of appreciation for the role of redemptive grace in relation to typology in the Kline’s thought.

This construction of a works principle remains consistent in Kline’s thought, although he does develop the concept in varying degrees from his earlier writings to his more significant later works, such as Kingdom Prologue and God, Heaven and Har Magedon. 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. What unites both thinkers relative to Kline is a flat understanding of Abraham and Israel, respectively. For instance, Shepherd speaks of Abraham’s obedience and reception of blessing as the fulfillment of the covenant at the level of the ordo salutis, but he does not develop the typology of Abraham’s obedience.[197] Similarly, Bahnsen asserts the abiding authority of Mosaic civil law in exhaustive detail as the unchanging norm for socio-political ethics, binding all magistrates to exacting obedience, but he does not develop significant typological features intrinsic to the theocracy. [198] 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.

We begin with an account of some of the main contours of Kline’s system before elaborating them in greater detail. The general presentation will seek to capture Kline’s thought in terms of its basic structures and important qualifications, thereby supplying the nuance and precision necessary to avoid misunderstanding and oversimplification which can emerge from isolating texts in his corpus and failing to put them into the wider context Kline himself supplies. Although this can be debated, this view of Kline will urge that when we take the time to read him properly, his notion of the works principle after the fall cannot be captured adequately by the language of substantial republication. Kline offers a nuanced advancement of covenant theology within the tradition of the Reformed biblical theology movement pioneered by Geerhardus Vos.

I. Protological and Typological Intrusions: Eden and Canaan

It is critical to note first of all that Eden represents the original historical prototype of the intruded eschatological kingdom in its holiness and (veiled) glory, and that the theocracy of Israel represents a second, typological intrusion of the same future kingdom in forms adjusted to the realities of sin and redemption. 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 creation of Eden as a holy theocracy is “an eschatological intrusion if viewed as a proleptic realization of the consummate kingdom. It is a cosmological (specifically, heavenly) intrusion if viewed as a downward projection of the holy sanctuary-domain of God already existent above.”[199] Eden is the original, protological theocratic realm that embodies in provisional form the holiness of the eschatological kingdom. Put differently, “The Creator had prepared in Eden an earthly replica of his heavenly dwelling as the holy place where man would fulfill his priestly office.”[200] He elaborates,

Chosen as the focal throne-site of the Glory-Spirit, the garden of Eden was a microcosmic, earthly version of the cosmic temple and the site of a visible, local projection of the heavenly temple. At the first, then, man’s native dwelling-place coincided with God’s earthly dwelling. This focal sanctuary in Eden was designed to be a medium whereby man might experience the joy of the presence of God in a way and on a scale most suited to his nature and condition as an earthly creature during the first stage of his historical journey, walking with God.[201]

Put in language that encapsulates the concern for both Adam and those represented by him, “The kingdom in Eden was Immanuel’s land, the holy place of the Glory-Spirit presence, a theocratic paradise-protectorate where a holy nation of priests lived in covenanted communion with the Lord their Creator.”[202]

To relate the protological intrusion to Adam’s identity as a priest-king, Eden is the original, intruded kingdom realm that Adam was tasked to consecrate as holy to the Lord through perfect, personal, exact, and entire obedience. 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. The “first stage” of Adam’s journey comprises priestly consecration to the Lord and kingly dominion under the Lord in combat with the ancient serpent. Communion with God would undergo an advancement if Adam remained obedient under the covenant of works. This is the eschatology of the situation in Eden.

But a key for understanding Kline’s concept of the covenant of works in Eden is this: a holy kingdom and a holy people are annexed to the perfect and representative obedience of Adam. Adam’s perfect obedience as a federal head is the means by which Adam, and those whom he represents, would advance beyond probation to Sabbath Rest. Adam’s obedience is tethered to an eschatological kingdom-inheritance, and this tethering provides a critical theological construction that helps Kline articulate what is unique regarding others whose obedience is tethered to either acquiring (Abraham) or maintaining (national Israel) the typical land inheritance of Canaan.

Thus, in the case of Adam as a federal head under the covenant of works, the communion bond with the Creator-King was designed to advance beyond its probationary status through the tested obedience of Adam. As Kline observes, “A principle of works—do this and live—governed the attainment of the consummation-kingdom proffered in the blessing sanction of the creational covenant.”[203] He says, “According to the terms stipulated by the Creator it would be on the ground of man’s faithful completion of the work of probation that he would be entitled to enter the Sabbath rest.”[204] In light of this, Kline continues that “with good reason then covenant theology has identified this probation arrangement as a covenant of works, thereby setting it in sharp contrast to the Covenant of Grace.”[205] The pathway for advancing from innocency to glory (cf. WCF 9, 2, 5) is the perfect, personal, exact, and entire obedience of Adam, as the federal head of his posterity, under the covenant of works.

The movement from innocency to glory through perfect obedience is set in substantial contrast to a principle of redemptive grace that promises salvation though faith in Christ; eschatology precedes soteriology. That is, eschatological glory is attainable under the covenant of works apart from redemptive mediation by Christ. It is in this context, and in light of the covenantal character of Adam’s obedience, that Kline speaks of a “grace” that offers “the claimless creature of the dust”[206] eschatological life for perfect obedience, although that grace is in no sense redemptive and does not bring into view faith in Christ. Yet, at the same time, and growing out of the free goodness of God, Adam, as a claimless creature, can “merit” eschatological life.

Kline clarifies it is important to remember that “grace is present in the pre-redemptive covenant. For the offer of a consummation of man’s original beatitude, or rather the entire glory and honor with which God crowned man from the beginning, was a display of the graciousness and goodness of God to this claimless creature of the dust.”[207] However, arising out of this benevolent act of voluntary condescension, Kline asserts the following:

God is just and his justice is expressed in all his acts; in particular, it is expressed in the covenant he institutes. The terms of the covenant—the stipulated reward for the stipulated service—are a revelation of that justice. As a revelation of God’s justice the terms of the covenant define justice. According to this definition, Adam’s obedience would have merited the reward of eternal life and not a gram of grace would have been involved.[208]

In these two statements, Kline distinguishes the offer of eschatological advancement as an expression of grace and freedom, on the one hand, from the actual terms of eschatological advancement which require that ex pacto justice reward perfect obedience, on the other. While the original offer of eschatological advancement to “a claimless creature of the dust” exhibits the (non-redemptive) grace and goodness of God, the attainment of that advancement through perfect obedience invokes the ex pacto justice of God.

Growing out of this context, Kline also understands the theocracy of Israel in Canaan as a typico-redemptive intrusion of the holiness of the eschatological kingdom. He says, “The theocratic kingdom instituted in the Mosaic age was a redemptive renewal of the paradise-sanctuary of Eden and a prototypal preview of the eternal theocratic sanctuary of the Consummation.”[209] Put differently, Kline expands by saying, “Only by way of redemptive intrusion does a theophany-centered holy place reappear in the otherwise non-holy, post-Fall world—most prominently in the cultus of Israel’s typological theocratic kingdom.”[210] In light of this he observes,

Appropriately, in connection with the symbolic kingdom-intrusion under the old covenant there were also in-breakings of the power of eschatological restoration in the physical realm and anticipatory applications of the principle of final redemptive judgment in the conduct of the political life of Israel, notably in the deliverance from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan, and the restoration from exile, though also throughout the governmental-judicial provisions of the Mosaic laws.[211]

Therefore, 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. It is within the context of these substantially distinct instances of intrusion that we need to delineate the distinction between protological and typological instances of the works principle in Kline’s thought. The protological intrusion in Eden is not redemptive in substance, whereas the typological intrusion in Canaan is redemptive in substance. This distinction underwrites Kline’s theology of the works principle in its protological and typological forms and accounts for both the substantial differences and formal similarities that emerge in its application to Adam and Israel, respectively.

II. Protology, Typology and the Works Principle

How does this redemptive intrusion in Canaan relate to the pre-redemptive intrusion in Eden? Substantial discontinuities emerge between the protological intrusion in Eden and the typological intrusion in Canaan. Kline introduces a key for grasping both the distinction and relation between Adam’s obedience in Eden and Israel’s obedience in Canaan when he says, “It is especially significant for our present thesis that 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), including specifically the nature of the original Edenic order as a holy paradise-kingdom and as a probationary-works arrangement.”[212]

The “limitations” and “adjustments” in view reside in at least the following distinction between Adam’s obedience as a son of God in the theocratic realm of Eden, on the one hand, and Israel’s national obedience as son of God in the theocratic realm of Canaan, on the other. He develops the distinction in the following way:

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.[213]

Several points Kline makes here deserve careful attention. On the one hand, the obedience of Adam is understood to be “flawless” obedience in a manner suited to his estate—the estate of innocency. Adam was to offer perfect, personal, exact, and entire obedience, as we have seen, in order to advance beyond probation into the offered Sabbath rest. Through his representative, flawless obedience, God would confer the kingdom of glory upon him and those who would descend from him by ordinary generation. On the other hand, Israel was to offer “a measure of religious loyalty” that did not have to be “comprehensive” of all Israel, nor did it have to be perfect among the true Israel—the elect. Israel’s obedience is likewise expressive of an estate, but in Israel’s case it is the estate of grace. 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.

This distinction enshrines the fundamental difference between the obedience of a sinless federal head, on the one hand, and a redeemed covenant people, on the other hand. Religious loyalty presupposes a redemptive relationship. Israel is to live in a manner that expresses religious loyalty to the Lord who has delivered them out of Egypt and whose redemptive glory-presence accompanies them from Egypt to wilderness to Canaan. Religious loyalty, for Kline, is a phrase that invokes the central redemptive reality that “I am your God, and you are my people (cf. Deut 6:7 that speaks this way in light of the Exodus). Israel, unlike Adam, is a blood-bought people in a redemptive, covenantal arrangement. Religious loyalty, then, is not flawless obedience; it is the imperfect obedience of those graciously redeemed by blood from sin and bondage. 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.

But another key point of discontinuity arises from Kline’s comment, and that point pertains to the rationale as to why God did not judge Israel instantly for sin in the same way he did fallen Adam. Kline observes, “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.” The judgment against Adam for his disobedience was virtually immediate, but there is a significant period of delay in the judgment that comes upon national Israel. What is the explanation?

The explanation for the delay of judgment against Israel resides in an underlying principle of sovereign grace. It is not common grace that suspends judgment, since common grace is precisely what is suspended along these lines in theocracy; rather, it is the underlying principle of sovereign grace that accounts for the way judgment against Israel is held in abeyance. 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.

Yet, at the same time, Kline notes that, “Nevertheless, God did so dispense his judgment that the interests of the typical-symbolical message of Israel’s history were preserved.” Although God dealt patiently with his people in terms of a principle of sovereign grace, he nonetheless judged Israel in the interests of the typico-symbolic message of Israel’s history. And that message is that the proper measure of religious loyalty was not offered to God, and Israel became like the surrounding nations, and, in light of covenant history, like Adam in his sin, exile, and loss of inheritance.

The typical-symbolic message of Israel is that, 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. Kline argues that the sign of circumcision itself portrays the judgment of God to be poured out either upon the coming Mediator if the covenant is kept, or upon the violator if the covenant is broken. Israel bore the threatened wrath and curse of God symbolically portrayed by circumcision.[214]

It is this typological function of national Israel’s obedience relative to land retention or land loss that Kline terms the works principle. Expounding and expanding this principle in his later work, Kingdom Prologue, Kline argues,

Leviticus 18:5, in stating that the man who performed the covenant stipulations would live in them, declared that individual Israelites must observe the requirements of the law to enjoy the blessings of the typological kingdom community. Even individuals who were elect in terms of eternal salvation would be cut off from that temporal, typological realm as the penalty for various serious infractions of the law. Likewise, the Israelite people corporately could maintain their continuing tenure as the theocratic kingdom in the promised land only as they maintained the appropriate measure of national fidelity to their heavenly King. Failure to do so would result in the loss of the typological kingdom and their very identity as God’s people in that corporate, typological sense. If they broke the covenant, they would suffer exile and the loss of their national, typological election.[215]

What Kline expresses here is an extension of the preceding argument. He argues that, “The appropriate measure of national fidelity” maintains tenure in the land of Canaan. Failure to display such appropriate fidelity ensures loss of the typical land inheritance. The works principle then is inextricably bound to the unique, typico-symbolic significance of corporate Israel, who dwells in the intruded holy realm of Canaan. By the language of the works principle Kline therefore seeks to capture the significance of the national expression of fidelity to the Lord relative to the typological holy realm of Canaan. The obedience/disobedience of Israel as a nation is annexed inseparably to either the maintenance/loss of the typical inheritance-land in Canaan.

The point of continuity with Adam, then, is not the requirement of “flawless” obedience with a view toward advancing beyond probation; rather, the point of continuity is that obedience is related in a distinct way to an intruded holy realm (protological in the case of Adam and typological in the case of Israel). Adam’s flawless obedience would advance him and his posterity from the protological to the eschatological kingdom realm. Israel’s “national fidelity” would maintain tenure in the typological, theocratic inheritance-land of Canaan and infidelity would forfeit the same. Thus, the typological works principle requires a correlation (with proper redemptive adjustments) between the obedience of the protological son (Adam) and the typological son (national Israel). Within the redemptive-historical pedagogy of God, Israel’s theocratic identity as son of God is designed to replicate the sin and exile of Adam as son of God. The focus in Kline’s thought rests on the outcome of disobedience in the case of each son, specifically in relation to an intruded theocratic realm of holiness that embodies in a provisional and anticipatory form the glory of the kingdom to come.

Kline elaborates in Kingdom Prologue as follows:

This works principle is elaborately expounded in the book of Deuteronomy, the treaty record of the subsequent renewal of the Sinaitic Covenant, just before Israel entered the land. At the climax of that renewal ceremony, the people, reminded of the claims of Yahweh upon them and summoned to choose between good and evil, life and death, reaffirmed their allegiance to their divine Lord (Deut 29). But Israel proceeded to violate their covenant oath repeatedly throughout their generations and the books that follow Deuteronomy in the Old Testament are the documentation of that tragic history of unfaithfulness on through the days of the judges and the kings. They relate also how the curses threatened against disobedience in the Deuteronomic treaty overtook the offending nation until, as their ultimate punishment, God drove the Israelites out of their holy paradise land into exile in the east. Banishment from Canaan came as the final result of a protracted legal process which God instituted against Israel, a covenant lawsuit he conducted through his servants the prophets. Warned over and again, Israel defied the prophets until God cut them off from the place of his sanctuary and blessing. Records of ancient international treaty administration attest to this same kind of legal process in which an overlord carries out his lawsuit against rebellious vassals through the agency of special messengers.
When we turn to the historical outcome of the covenant established at creation we find much the same story as we do in the case of the Sinaitic Covenant. Genesis 3 is also a tragic record of covenant-breaking, followed by a divine lawsuit and the execution of a curse, consisting in the expulsion of man from the sanctuary-paradise of God into a state of exile east of Eden.[216]

Note the language key for our purposes: the “works principle” is consistent with a “protracted legal process” by which Israel is warned “over and over again” to express appropriate fidelity to the Lord. Sustained apostasy on a massive scale leads eventually to the implementation of the curse in the form of exile. Of paramount importance, note Kline’s accent on the protracted period of time by which Israel’s tenure could continue in the land as long as an appropriate measure of fidelity, summed up in Lev. 18:5, was offered to the Lord. It is in the long-term apostasy of Israel, expressed in a persistent rejection of the Lord’s covenantal grace, eventually resulting in exile, that we discern the correlation with “Genesis 3” and a similar “tragic record of covenant-breaking, followed by a divine lawsuit and the execution of a curse, consisting in the expulsion of man from the sanctuary-paradise of God into a state of exile east of Eden.”

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. Therefore, embedded within the redemptive intrusion of the typal kingdom in Canaan, Kline detects the presence of a works principle that applies to national Israel and occasions a reenactment of Adam’s sin and exile in forms adjusted to the realities of sin, grace and redemptive typology.

III. Typological “Merit” in Relation to the Works Principle: Abraham’s Obedience as Redemptive-Historical Prototype for National Israel’s Obedience[217]

Up to this point, Kline’s accent on grace and redemptive typology seems clear enough, but we need to understand and analyze his notion of “merit” as it pertains to the obedience of national Israel in an arrangement that is governed by a works principle.

To summarize the argument in advance, a key for grasping Kline’s concept of typological merit resides in the unique role of Abraham’s obedience. From one vantage point, Abraham’s ordinary, Spirit-wrought obedience is a prophetic and typical sign of the meritorious obedience of Christ. From another vantage point, Abraham’s obedience serves as the historical prototype that regulates the nature of Israel’s “meritorious” obedience relative to maintaining the typical kingdom-inheritance. It is the obedience of Abraham in his unique typological function that both prefigures Christ and supplies the prototype for the kind of obedience to be offered by national Israel.

Kline observes that “Abraham was a prototype of the second Adam, the patriarchal father of that new mankind in which the Edenic ideal of the kingdom-family, originally set before Adam, is realized.”[218] That is, just as all humanity would be blessed in light of the protological Adam’s perfect and personal obedience, so also something similar occurs in the case of Abraham. Abraham is the father of a new mankind—a redemptive covenant community in whom the eschatological purposes of God are being realized through faith in the promised Messianic seed.

More specifically, 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.”[219] 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. Abraham, whose obedience operates squarely within a redemptive context, will resemble that of Adam in the Garden of Eden, with significant “limitations” and “adjustments” that take into account the realities of sin, redemption, and redemptive typology.

Amplifying, Kline says that Abraham’s obedience is not only rewarded but points to a unique relationship between Abraham’s obedience and the typal kingdom promised to him and his descendants in the Messiah: “When, however, we trace the matter back to the record of God’s covenant revelation to the patriarchs we encounter statements that connect the promissory grant of the kingdom to the faithful service rendered to the Lord by Abraham.”[220] Expanding his observation, Kline argues,

The imagery of Genesis 15:1 is that of the Great King honoring Abraham’s notable exhibition of compliance with covenant duty by the reward of a special grant that would more than make up for whatever enrichment he had foregone at the hands of the king of Sodom for the sake of faithfulness to Yahweh, his Lord. The broader record of the Lord’s dealings with Abraham includes numerous key expressions paralleled in the ancient royal grants to loyal servants: such a servant is one who obeys, keeps the charge, serves perfectly, walks before his lord.[221]

He continues,

Another display of outstanding covenantal obedience by Abraham, the most remarkable of all, was the occasion for a second divine disclosure presenting the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant as a divine grant for the servant’s work of obedience. At the conclusion of the sacrificial episode on Moriah, the Angel of the Lord, the very one who was at last to be the only Son and substitutionary ram of sacrifice, called out of heaven to Abraham: “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, because thou hast done this thing and hast not withheld thine only son that in blessing I will bless thee ... because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:16–18).[222]

Further clarifying the nature and function of Abraham’s obedience, 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). He suggests, “Viewing this episode from the perspective of justification by faith in Christ, James expounded Abraham’s act of obedience as the work that demonstrated the vital reality of his faith (Jas 2:21ff.). But this event is to be seen from the redemptive-historical perspective as well as that of the personal, subjective experience of salvation. It had a special, decisive significance for the subsequent course of covenant history.”[223] While Abraham’s obedience is something that exhibits Spirit-wrought faith that unites to the Messiah and is common to all believers, that same obedience, when viewed from a redemptive-historical perspective, exhibits something uniquely typological. In other words, while Abraham is the father of all who believe in the sense that he and believers walk by faith and not by sight, his obedience by faith also has decisive significance for the subsequent course of redemptive history—a unique and unrepeatable typological function.

Kline expands,

That Abraham’s obedience had special historic significance as the basis for God’s future favorable action towards his descendants is confirmed by the Lord’s later repetition of the substance of this oracle, now to Isaac (Gen 26:2ff.). Having restated his commitment to fulfill the covenant promises to Isaac and his line, the Lord concluded: “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen 26:5, cf. v. 24). Here the significance of Abraham’s works cannot be limited to their role in validation of his own faith. His faithful performance of his covenantal duty is here clearly declared to sustain a causal relationship to the blessing of Isaac and Israel. It had a meritorious character that procured a reward enjoyed by others.[224]

Kline further expounds on the typological significance of Abraham when he observes the following:

Because of Abraham’s obedience redemptive history would take the shape of an Abrahamite kingdom of God from which salvation’s blessings would rise up and flow out to the nations. 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. Within this typological structure Abraham emerges as an appointed sign of his promised messianic seed, the Servant of the Lord, whose fulfillment of his covenantal mission was the meritorious ground of the inheritance of the antitypical, eschatological kingdom by the true, elect Israel of all nations. Certainly, Abraham’s works did not have that status. They were, however, accorded by God an analogous kind of value with respect to the typological stage represented by the old covenant.[225]

Several key points emerge in Kline’s presentation. First, observe that when Kline speaks of Abraham’s obedience as a “meritorious ground” he understands that language to be “analogous” to the value of Christ’s perfect obedience given “the typological stage” of old covenant revelation. That is to say, Abraham’s obedience remains at every point the obedience of the redeemed—the obedience of one who is redeemed by Spirit-wrought faith union with the promised Messiah. Put the other way around, Abraham’s obedience is at no point to be confused with the obedience of the Redeemer, the Servant of the Lord, the Mediator-Messiah. Only the obedience of Christ supplies proper, covenantal merit that fulfills the requirements and removes the penalty of the original covenant of works. Abraham’s obedience and the notion of “merit” in view can be at best only analogical to the true merit of Christ.

Secondly, and specifying more precisely how Abraham’s obedience can be imperfect, yet analogous, to the meritorious obedience of Christ, Kline argues that the Lord assigns to Abraham’s imperfect obedience a unique function that brings into view the blessing of his offspring. God forms a kingdom-people around obedient Abraham during the pre-Pentecost age of progressive, redemptive revelation.

In his final published book entitled God, Heaven and Har Magedon, Kline offers perhaps greater clarity on the typological role of Abraham’s obedience. He says,

Genesis 22 records another episode in which an outstanding act of obedience on Abraham’s part is said to be the basis for the Lord’s bestowing on him the blessings of the covenant: “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, that I will surely bless you ... because you have obeyed my voice” (vv.16–18). From the perspective of Abraham’s personal experience of justification by faith, this act of obedience validated his faith (Jas 2:21ff; cf. Gen 15:6). But from the redemptive-historical/eschatological perspective, Abraham’s obedience had typological import. The Lord constituted it a prophetic sign of the obedience of Christ, which merits the heavenly kingdom for his people.[226]

Kline situates Abraham’s obedience within the basic structure of the ordo salutis, highlighting that his obedience is the “obedience of faith” (cf. Ro. 1:5; James 2:14–26); yet, at the same time, he argues that his obedience has a prophetic, typical significance that prefigures the meritorious obedience of Christ.

Cohering with what Kline developed earlier in Kingdom Prologue, Abraham’s obedience is common, Spirit-wrought obedience, characteristic of every believer. However, that same obedience, viewed from a redemptive-historical perspective, has a typological significance. The Lord assigns ordinary, Spirit-wrought faith a prophetically typical function that anticipates the climactic, once-for-all obedience of Christ.

Pushing beyond the earlier formulation in Kingdom Prologue, however, Kline argues that Abraham’s obedience is a “prophetic sign” of the “obedience of Christ.” It is only the latter, Christ’s obedience, that “merits” eschatological redemption for the elect. As a sign, the obedience of Abraham must be substantially distinguished from what is signifies, namely, the obedience 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. Christ’s obedience at every point remains the obedience of the Redeemer of those under the covenant of grace. The prophetic and typical character of Abraham’s obedience underscores the irreversible distinction between Abraham, the redeemed, and Christ, the Redeemer.

In these ways, then, Abraham’s obedience is imperfectly prophetic and typical of Christ’s obedience. With these qualifications in place, and keeping them in view, we can move on and appreciate further the way that Abraham’s obedience operates positively as a prophetic sign and type of Christ’s obedience. Abraham’s obedience is assigned a unique role in the Old Testament Scriptures: it is the premised typological reality in light of which his descendants, along with the nations, will be blessed. In the case of Abraham, the obedience of the one is the divinely ordained act that contemplates the blessing of the many, thus functioning to typify the obedience of the Messiah (Gen 22:16–18).

The blessing of Abraham’s offspring is connected to his “obeying the voice” of the Lord. Abraham’s obedience is assigned a function that brings within its purview the inclusion of the Gentiles. The typical and prophetic character of his obedience rests in this: the imperfect, Spirit-wrought obedience of the one results in the blessing of the many. Surely, Kline reasons, Genesis 22 analogically (and typologically) adumbrates Isaiah 53 and Romans 5, where the obedience of the one secures the blessing of the many he represents.

Let us seek further to refine and clarify further what Kline is getting at when he speaks of the “meritorious performance” offered by Abraham in the context established, using the language and theology from the Westminster Confession of Faith. 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). Abraham’s “ordinary” obedience is assigned a typological function that adumbrates the positive aspect of Christ’s obedience. Because Abraham by faith obeyed the voice of the Lord, all the nations on earth will be blessed. 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. That God accepted Abraham’s obedience as the act that brings into view the blessing of the nations means that God constituted his obedience as a type of the Messiah’s obedience.

Returning to Kingdom Prologue, Kline says, that Abraham functions in a specifically typical way that relates not only to the incarnate Son, but the eternal Son as well. Abraham’s work, Kline says, was

only a typological pointer but the obedience of Abraham that God assessed as meritorious on these two occasions was richly symbolic of Messiah’s mission. In Genesis 15 the reward was announced in response to a kingly service of deliverance from the Lord’s enemies. In Genesis 22 the reward was for a priestly ministry of sacrifice. Together these acts of obedience exhibited the negative and positive aspects of the consecration function of God’s servant, guardianship of the sanctuary and tributary offering.
The obedient Abraham, the faithful covenant servant, was a type of the Servant of the Lord in his obedience, by which he became the surety of the new covenant. Like the messianic Servant, the one whose meritorious service secured God’s blessings for the many who were his “seed” (Isa 52:15; 53:10–12), so Abraham was one, and the reward of his obedience was the blessings of the typal kingdom for the many who were his seed (cf. Isa 51:2). Yet the antitype was before the type. “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). The messianic seed of Abraham was before father Abraham. Abraham was among the many who were the “seed” of the One who was his seed, the many who were blessed in that messianic One.[227]

The final portion of the quotation is critical to appreciate: the antitype is before the type, Kline reasons. This means that Abraham’s obedience is to be set within the broader framework of the pactum salutis—the obedience of the eternal Son in terms of the covenant of redemption. Abraham, viewed from the standpoint of covenant history in its linear progression is a type of Christ, who comes after Abraham. Abraham, when viewed from the standpoint of covenant history in relation to the eternal decree, the pactum, is a type of the eternal Son, who comes before Abraham.

Once we understand this structure in Kline’s thought, we are able to situate Abraham’s obedience in relation to the Logos asarkos (the unfleshed, eternal Logos) and the Logos ensarkos (the enfleshed, incarnate Son). Like the obedience of the eternal Son in the pactum salutis, Abraham’s obedience pertains to an inheritance. That is to say, while Abraham’s obedience is ordinary “Christian” obedience, his obedience sustains a close relation to the typical inheritance of Canaan. This, as we have seen above, is what invests his obedience with its typological significance. 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 functions to represent a holy people and with a view toward typologically securing the holy realm in which they will have communion with Yahweh.

However, notice that there are also significant discontinuities between the obedience of Abraham and the obedience of the eternal Son in the pactum salutis. Unlike the obedience of the eternal Son, Abraham’s obedience remains imperfect, Spirit-wrought obedience—the obedience of a redeemed sinner in union with the Messiah. Unlike the obedience of the eternal Son, Abraham’s obedience pertains to a typical kingdom and not the eschatological kingdom. The obedience of the eternal Son brings into view the eschatological inheritance. Abraham remains a mere type of this sort of obedience. Put most basically, unlike the obedience of the eternal Son, Abraham’s obedience is the obedience of a creature, not the Creator.

Kline therefore categorically distinguishes the perfect, meritorious obedience of the eternal Son—the archetypal obedience—from the imperfect, Spirit-wrought obedience of Abraham—the ectypal obedience. It is out of this framework that we can understand what Kline means when he speaks of Abraham’s “meritorious” obedience in relation to securing a holy typical realm for a holy people. Abraham’s obedience functions in a way that approximates the meritorious obedience of the eternal Son. The approximation rests in the way that Abraham’s imperfect, Spirit-wrought obedience functions positively in relation to the attainment of a holy realm for a holy people.

Abraham’s imperfect, Spirit-wrought obedience is a positive replication of the meritorious obedience of the eternal Son in the pactum (a vertical relation) and a positive anticipation of the meritorious obedience of the incarnate Son as the Mediator of the covenant of grace (a horizontal relation). Abraham provides a typological exemplar to which the faithful are directed to discern a replication and anticipation of the obedience of the eternal/incarnate Mediator in relation to the pactum salutis and historia salutis. This is Kline’s basic point—a point that is not designed to compete with or undermine the fact that Abraham’s obedience, if viewed from the standpoint of the ordo salutis, is on par with the obedience of every believer. Kline’s appreciation for the typological, “meritorious” obedience of Abraham does not destroy his appreciation for Abraham’s obedience as the obedience of faith (cf. Gal 3:6–9; Rom 1:5; Jas 2:14–26).

Expanding on this point, Abraham’s obedience also supplies the prototype for the character of Israel’s meritorious obedience under a works principle. In Kingdom Prologue, he observes the following:

The term ‘eqeb, “because,” used in Genesis 26:5 (and already in the original revelation to Abraham in Gen 22:18) signifies recompense, reward (cf. Ps 19:11; Prov 22:4; Isa. 5:23). This strengthens the case for understanding this as a matter of meritorious works. Moreover, Genesis 26:5 describes Abraham’s obedience in language surprising in the Genesis context, the divine demand being denoted by a series of legislative categories such as are later applied to the laws of Moses. A particularly interesting combination of such terms together with ‘eqeb, “in recompense for,” is found in Deuteronomy 7:12 (cf. 8:20). Quite possibly then, Genesis 26:5 employs the terminology of covenant stipulations from the Sinaitic Covenant, where it describes an arrangement governed by the meritorious works principle, to reenforce the point that Abraham’s obedience was also to be understood as having such a meritorious character and that as such it was the ground of the reward enjoyed by his descendants.[228]

From one perspective, Abraham’s obedience is a typical instance of the unique obedience of the Messiah. But from another perspective that same obedience supplies the redemptive-historical prototype that grounds the nature of another “meritorious works principle” under the Sinaitic Covenant. We need not speculate as to the connection between Abraham and national Israel. Legislative categories from the Mosaic covenant are applied to Abraham’s “meritorious” obedience. Moreover, Abraham’s obedience exhibits a works principle and has a “meritorious character” that correlates to the “Sinaitic Covenant” and another “arrangement governed by the meritorious works principle.” Insofar as Kline also construes national Israel’s obedience under the Sinaitic Covenant as “an arrangement governed by the works principle,” the unity between Abraham’s obedience and national Israel’s obedience seems clear. In light of this, Kline construes it as quite possible that language from the Mosaic covenant is applied to Abraham, so that 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.

All of this suggests that both Abraham and national Israel, sinners who are redeemed by Spirit-wrought union with the Messiah, offer obedience that relates uniquely to the typal inheritance. This discussion of Abraham’s obedience in relation to the typal kingdom provides the underlying, redemptive-historical frame of reference for understanding the nature of Israel’s obedience in relation to the inheritance of Canaan. Correlating these reflections together and making application to national Israel, Kline says,

Although Israel’s inheritance and continued enjoyment of the promises was not a matter of legal merit, there was a connection between the nation’s corporate piety and prosperity. For the Old Testament theocratic kingdom prefigured the consummate kingdom of God, in which righteousness and glory are to be united. Accordingly, to keep the typical-prophetic picture clear God allowed the Israelites to enjoy the blessings of the typical kingdom only as they, and especially their official representatives, exhibited an appropriate measure of the righteousness of the kingdom. Since any righteousness that Israel possessed was a gift of grace from the God of her salvation, the principle which informs Deuteronomy 28 has no affinities with a religion of works-salvation (see comments on 6:1–3).[229]

The obedience of Israel, like Abraham, exhibits a righteousness that is a “gift of grace from the God of her salvation.” From this vantage point, Israel is the redeemed offspring of Abraham. It is in this context that we are to understand the nation’s “corporate piety” and “appropriate measure of righteousness” within the typical kingdom. The “appropriate measure” of righteousness finds its precedent in Abraham and his obedience. Israel, to the extent that he exhibits fidelity as a typological son of God, he both obeys in terms of the pattern of Abraham and typifies the holiness of the “consummate kingdom of God” that would arrive in the coming Messiah. However, 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.

The point of continuity between Abraham and national Israel turns on the fact that ordinary, Spirit-wrought obedience functions within the context of a works principle that binds that obedience to a typal inheritance. The point of distinction turns on the way Abraham’s obedience relates to the acquisition of the typal inheritance and Israel’s national obedience pertains to its maintenance (obedience) or loss (disobedience). Israel, if obedient, follows the prototype of Abraham’s faith and obedience and maintains the typal inheritance. Israel, if disobedient, abandons the prototype of Abraham’s faith, reenacts in typological categories Adam’s sin and exile, and forfeits the typal inheritance. Insofar as the obedience of Israel is tethered to retaining the typical paradise land, and Israel’s disobedience is tethered to the exile from the typical paradise land, there is a divinely established structure in place that allows for the replication of the sin and exile of Adam, adjusted to Israel’s redemptive relationship to the Lord under the covenant of grace in its Mosaic administration. This is the essence of the redemptively recalibrated works principle that operates typologically within national Israel.

These observations set the parameters of national Israel’s typological situation in relation to obedient Abraham, fallen Adam, and the promised second Adam (Christ) and shed light on the issue of merit in Kline’s thought. Adam, as a sinless federal head, could have offered sinless obedience that merits ex pacto the eschatological inheritance. Christ, as the God-man and Mediator, is the only one who could have offered (and did offer) a properly meritorious obedience that fulfills the requirements and removes the penalty of the covenant of works, thereby meriting the eschatological inheritance for his elect. Neither Abraham nor Israel can merit the blessings of God if we have in view such notions of merit that apply to sinless federal heads. Nonetheless, in light of a principle of sovereign grace, and in the interest of redemptive typology, God ordains there to be in the cases of Abraham and Israel a Spirit-wrought obedience that has a unique function relative to the typal land-inheritance.

Kline’s point is that while neither Abraham nor Israel can offer the sinless obedience of a federal head that secures and permanently maintains the eschatological inheritance, both offer unique instances of typological obedience that relates to either the acquisition or retention of the typal kingdom. Thus, 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.[230] 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. Therefore, Kline is not trying to use merit language in terms that have been developed within the history of doctrine per se. Rather, he is extending the application of qualified merit language to figures in redemptive history in order to isolate what is unique to their obedience in relation to the typal kingdom.

In summary, then, it appears accurate to say that the notion of typological merit just outlined above flows out of the typological intrusion, in which “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).”[231] The typico-redemptive intrusion, coupled with the redemptive typology bound up with Abraham and Israel, yields a “typological” notion of merit. 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

With these qualifications in view, Kline invokes Leviticus 18:5 and says,

Leviticus 18:5, in stating that the man who performed the covenant stipulations would live in them, declared that individual Israelites must observe the requirements of the law to enjoy the blessings of the typological kingdom community. Even individuals who were elect in terms of eternal salvation would be cut off from that temporal, typological realm as the penalty for various serious infractions of the law. Likewise, the Israelite people corporately could maintain their continuing tenure as the theocratic kingdom in the promised land only as they maintained the appropriate measure of national fidelity to their heavenly King. Failure to do so would result in the loss of the typological kingdom and their very identity as God’s people in that corporate, typological sense. If they broke the covenant, they would suffer exile and the loss of their national, typological election.[232]

This quotation from Kline raises the question of how we might correlate covenant breaking under the Mosaic covenant at the national, typological level and covenant breaking at the individual level. The following observations may help readers of Kline gain clarity on this issue.

Kline believes that apostasy is possible under the covenant of grace. Such a belief coheres with a theology admitting to dual sanctions of blessing or curse appended to the sacraments of circumcision/baptism. Those under the Lordship of God in the covenant of grace face a judgment according to works if they fail to walk by faith in the Messiah, who bears judgment for them. Kline says, “Moreover, the newness of the New Covenant does not consist in a reduction of the Covenant of Redemption to the principle of election and guaranteed blessing. Its law character is seen in this too that it continues to be a covenant with dual sanctions ... having, in particular, anathemas to pronounce and excommunications to execute.”[233]

The following points emerge from Kline’s presentation. First, the new covenant, precisely because it is breakable at the individual level, cannot be reduced to the principle of election and guaranteed blessing. Second, this is due to the fact that the new covenant, like the old covenant expression of the covenant of grace, has dual sanctions of blessing and curse. These points are critical to appreciate when it comes to explaining apostasy under the covenant of grace, because Kline affirms that the new covenant is breakable in a specified sense.

It is breakable at the individual level given apostasy (cf. Heb 10:26–31). Apostasy occurs when an individual in the new covenant fails to appropriate the indicative of the gospel and walk by faith working in love (cf. Rom 1:5; Gal 5:6). The individual is cut off from the covenant community, invoking the curse sanction of the covenant, and loses eschatological inheritance.

Put a bit differently, blessing in the new covenant operates within the contingent confidence of one who, by virtue of Spirit-wrought union with Christ, walks by faith and not by sight. This may be expressed in confessional language as “improving our baptism” by faith and obedience in union and communion with Christ (cf. LC 167). Kline speaks of a form of conditionality that appends to the covenant of grace, due to the fact that the Lord’s demand for holiness is consistent in its expression.[234] The sacraments of circumcision and baptism, while holding forth the promised indicative, do so in such a way that the demands for consecration and holiness are escalated and perfected. Finally, and underwriting these points, Kline appeals to the dual sanctions of the covenant of grace, both in its old and new covenant administrations.

Let us now briefly extend this discussion, using Kline’s sacramental theology to guide us. Explaining Israel’s exile and loss of national election in relation to apostasy under the covenant of grace, we can say that 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). Moses and the prophets appeal to the fact that Israel as a nation has an uncircumcised heart (Deut 10:16; Jer. 4:4). This uncircumcision brings the nation under the threatened sanctions of the covenant in a manner analogous to the way that an uncircumcised heart brings an individual under the threatened sanction of the covenant of grace. In both instances, there is a threatened sanction—a judgment according to sinful works—that is expressed.

Where, then, is the difference? The difference between national Israel and the individual in the new covenant is that Israel as a nation bears the curse sanction of circumcision at a typico-symbolic level. The substance of that reality consists in Israel’s apostasy invoking the curse sanction of circumcision in a unique, typological setting whereby the nation forfeits the typal kingdom. 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. Failure to demonstrate appropriate fidelity to the Lord, whether individual or national, results in a judgment to be borne by the individual or nation, the latter being in the form of exile from Canaan. And insofar as Israel bears the threatened circumcision curse at the national level, there is a repetition of sin in the likeness of Adam and a repudiation of the faith-obedience of Abraham. The uniqueness of Israel’s apostasy turns on the fact that judgment expresses itself in the form of typological land loss, which adds a unique feature to Israel’s national apostasy that in the final analysis redemptive-historically reenacts the sin and exile of Adam.

This theme of covenantal judgment continues with the sacramental significance of baptism in the new covenant. Baptism, like circumcision, brings dual sanctions into view. Kline makes this explicit: “There is a thoroughgoing correspondence between the meaning of baptism and that of circumcision. Both are confessional oath signs of consecration to the Lord of the covenant and both signify his ultimate redemptive judgment with its potential of both condemnation and justification.”[235]

Clearly, then, there is for Kline a continuity between the oath signs of circumcision and baptism. Both signify and seal dual sanctions, pending the appropriation (or lack thereof) of the indicative of the gospel by Spirit-wrought faith-union with the Messiah.

However, given this unity, Kline also discerns a shift in emphasis in the movement from circumcision to baptism. Kline says,

There is indeed a shift in emphasis from the malediction side of the judgment spectrum to the vindication side as covenant revelation moves on from Old Testament circumcision to New Testament baptism (the baptism of John being in this respect, too, transitional). This change reflects the movement of redemptive history from an administration of condemnation to one of righteousness. Nevertheless, the maledictory element is no more to be excluded from the New Testament sign of consecration because of this shift in emphasis than vindication-qualification is to be excluded from the meaning of the Old Testament rite simply because that was characteristically an administration of condemnation and death.[236]

Kline is probing the difference between the application of the sign of circumcision to a nation who lacks heart circumcision, resulting in exile and loss of typical land inheritance (in a manner analogous to Adam’s exile from Eden, as described above), and the shift in emphasis in the new covenant where the covenant sign is applied to a people who are heart circumcised (cf. Romans 2:26–28). The shift in predominant emphasis can account for the shift from an administration of condemnation to one of righteousness. Predominant emphasis, because apostasy in the new covenant is a reality that cannot be denied. Predominant emphasis, because circumcision and baptism signify and seal the same spiritual realities (union with the Messiah) and offer the same dual sanctions of malediction apart from the Messiah and blessing in the Messiah. Writ large across the pages of redemptive history, then, Kline detects a shift away from the typological works principle that tethered Israel’s obedience to typical land maintenance and brought condemnation/exile for the nation. Instead, the focus turns to Christ, whose meritorious obedience in life and death under the protological works principle secures and maintains the eternal kingdom-inheritance for the elect.

Kline’s theology of the sacraments becomes a critical focusing lens by which we can distinguish and relate corporate and individual apostasy and gain greater clarity on the nature of the Mosaic covenant, Israel’s national obedience, and the typico-symbolic recapitulation of Adam’s sin and exile in Israel’s protracted apostasy.

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

Kline makes a distinction between the unbreakable new covenant order as a whole, on the one hand, and individual apostasy from the new covenant on the other hand. The new covenant as a whole, unlike the old covenant under Moses with respect to the works principle and land retention, is unbreakable. With regard to the new covenant order as a whole, he says,

With the abolishing of the Mosaic order, the second level kingdom of the messianic age was initiated under the Lord’s New Covenant with the church. Jeremiah, speaking of the new covenant to be made in the coming days (Jer 31:31–34), drew a sharp contrast between it and the covenant made at Sinai (i.e., the stratum of it concerned with the typological kingdom). He described the Old Covenant as breakable and in fact as having been broken by Israel, which means that it was informed by the works principle of inheritance. And he asserted that the new covenant would be unlike the Torah covenant. It would be unbreakable; it would be an administration of gospel grace and forgiveness. While then we will want to affirm the New Covenant’s continuity with the foundational gospel stratum of the Mosaic economy and with the Abrahamic Covenant of promise, we must also acknowledge the works-grace discontinuity between the new and the old (at its typological level), the difference that Jeremiah so emphatically asserted.[237]

Readers should note carefully how Kline is talking in terms of the covenantal orders a whole, and is not addressing the narrower issue of individual apostasy, which he elsewhere affirms. This distinction is important to grasp. Kline affirms that individuals within the covenant of grace can be grafted in or out of the new covenant, so that in the narrow sense—in terms of individuals within the new covenant administration of the covenant of grace—it is breakable. He says,

By means of its olive tree imagery Romans 11 instructs us concerning two kinds of continuity between the two stages. One is the continuity of the elect, spiritual seed (as we shall see) but along with that is the continuity of the covenant community as an institution, which is a broader circle than the election. That the olive tree as a whole represents the covenant institution, not the election, is evident from the facts that some (alas many) Jewish branches have been broken off and that Gentile branches who do not continue in God’s kindness are threatened with the same excision.[238]

While the new covenant as an order—a distinct and climactic order within the historia salutis—is unbreakable, individuals within the new covenant can break the covenant and be excised. The new covenant order as a whole is unbreakable, even though individuals within that order can break the new covenant and fall away.

Understanding this feature, which like the other features we treated remains consistent throughout Kline’s corpus, helps avoid confusion when it comes to the differences that exist between the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace at the national level and the new covenant administration of the same covenant of grace. The distinction is not that the former is breakable without qualification, whereas the latter is unbreakable without qualification. That is far too simplistic to capture Kline’s theological point. Rather, the 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

Readings of Kline that are not sensitive to the distinctions developed above present his view as “substantial republication” rather than “administrative republication.” That is, some readings of Kline do not note the deep continuity between Abraham and national Israel when it comes to “meritorious” obedience in relation to the typal kingdom. This oversight can generate a number of objections to the reading of Kline presented in this section. We will consider a few and briefly respond.

It could be urged that in key texts Kline speaks of a works principle in the Sinaitic covenant that stands in the sharpest possible contrast to the principle of grace-faith-promise.[239] Additionally, Kline observes that it is Israel who swears the oath in the Sinaitic covenant, which, some could urge, supports that the idea that the covenant is a republished graceless works principle derived from Eden.

In response to this, we need to remember both the nature and function of the works principle in relation to Abraham as Kline expounds it. 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. An analogy to the Adamic covenant of works emerges, but it is only that—an analogy. The absence of redemptive grace with Adam stands in contrast to the presence of redemptive grace with Abraham and Israel.

Moreover, we must remember the way the works principle in Kline’s thought is adjusted to the realities of sin and redemptive typology applies to Israel’s swearing of an oath. Israel’s swearing of an oath to the Lord is situated within the nation as the “seed of Abraham” who are to exhibit the kind of obedience Abraham exhibited. In other words, the oath sworn is not a repristinated prelapsarian oath from Eden and patterned after Adam’s obedience. On the contrary, it is a redemptive historically qualified oath patterned after Abraham and aimed at the preservation of typal land-inheritance.

It is this principle inherited through Abraham that governs the “secondary strata” of Israel as a nation. Given this reality, the typal kingdom is maintained through the Spirit-wrought obedience of Israel as a nation.

Put differently, 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. Kline says,

If they broke the covenant, they would suffer exile and the loss of their national, typological election. Such was, of course, the actual outcome. Israel became Lo-Ammi. The fact of this loss of the national election given to Israel in the Mosaic Covenant compels all who confess the sovereignty of God’s saving grace to recognize the presence of a works principle in that covenant. Clearly, the sovereign grace of Christ’s suretyship does not relate to the typological realm with its national election and blessings under the old covenant in the way it does to the individual election to the ultimate realities of salvation, which are in view in all administrations of the Covenant of Grace. At the level of the secondary, typological stratum of the Mosaic order, continuance in the election to kingdom blessings was not guaranteed by sovereign grace on the basis of Christ’s meritorious accomplishments. It was rather something to be merited by the Israelites’ works of obedience to the law.[240]

Christ’s suretyship applies to Israel as a nation in critical respects as it does in the case of Abraham (ordo salutis). Nevertheless, that same suretyship does not ensure the perpetual security of the typal kingdom order (historia salutis). Christ’s obedience does not ensure the perennial maintenance of the inheritance in Canaan. Rather, that kingdom inheritance is maintained by Israel insofar as Israel walks in the faith and obedience of Abraham, including the redemptively qualified notion of merit outlined above. When Israel does not render such obedience, the typal kingdom itself collapses—something that cannot happen to the antitypal kingdom secured and maintained by Christ’s perfect obedience. 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.

What this requires us to appreciate in Kline’s thought is the distinction between the way Christ’s obedience secures the eschatological kingdom in opposition to the way that Israel’s disobedience forfeits the typal kingdom. Kline’s point is that Israel’s situation correlates itself to the fallen Adamic order in the way that disobedience forfeits inheritance—a scenario that stands in the starkest contrast to the way that Christ’s obedience merits the eschatological inheritance. Therefore, while the grace of Christ’s suretyship underwrites and enables Israel’s obedience at the level of the ordo salutis, his obedience does not secure the everlasting maintenance of the typal kingdom at the level of the historia salutis. If his suretyship did secure the typal kingdom perpetually, that order would endure forever. 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.

This insight explains why Kline stresses the function of the oath taken by Israel relative to continuation in the blessings of the typal kingdom. As Israel swears an oath to God that relates to continuing in the typal kingdom-inheritance, it is Israel’s obedience, not Christ’s, that maintains the typal kingdom. That is, Israel’s obedience—the same in kind with Abraham’s obedience—is tethered uniquely to the maintenance of the typal kingdom and disobedience is tethered to its loss. Kline argues that it is this situation that accounts for the way the typal kingdom order as a whole can be lost, whereas the antitypal kingdom order as a whole cannot be lost. The maintenance of the typal kingdom is tethered to the obedience of national Israel—the typological son; the consummation and permanent maintenance of the antitypal kingdom is tethered to the obedience of Christ—the eschatological Son. It is precisely here that Kline situates the sharp contrast between the Mosaic covenant at the typological level and the new covenant. Failure to appreciate this nuance results in a misinterpretation of Kline.

B. Kline’s Confusing Use of Merit Terminology

Another objection to Kline’s theology of the works principle would turn on his infelicitous use of merit language. The concern would be that Kline’s use is novel and muddies the waters when it comes to explaining the nature of Abraham’s and Israel’s obedience. Distinctions already made above are worth reviewing at this point.

The first distinction that might prove useful is the distinction already surveyed between the obedience of sinless federal heads (Adam and Christ) versus sinners redeemed by union with the Mediator (Abraham and national Israel). In the former, the requirement of perfect obedience from a sinless federal head under the terms of the covenant of works is the means to the end of eschatological advancement. Critical to note is that failure to offer perfect obedience under the terms of the covenant are met with immediate judgment. Imperfect obedience is unacceptable. In the latter, and consistent with WCF 16, imperfect obedience is accepted on a principle of grace for the sake of Christ and can function to acquire or maintain the typal kingdom. But such obedience is not tethered to eschatological advancement as in the case of sinless federal heads. Nor is it the case that imperfect obedience (and disobedience) are met with immediate judgment. This means that what Kline understands by “typological merit” must differ in kind from what he means by merit as it pertains to sinless federal heads.

The second distinction worth noting is that Kline is not applying his notion of typological merit to the ordo salutis but to the historia salutis. That is, the concept of merit does not have in view individuals attaining eternal salvation but with unrepeatable instances of Spirt-wrought obedience annexed to the typal land-inheritance. What this requires us to appreciate, then, is a word-concept distinction relative to the historical theological discussion of merit. Kline is not trying to apply merit language to Abraham or national Israel in the same sense that the Reformed tradition, including Kline himself, has applied the concept of merit to either Adam or Christ. Rather, he applies a highly qualified notion of merit to unique instances of imperfect obedience (Abraham and national Israel) that are covenantally bound in a distinctive way to the typal kingdom.

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 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.

On this interpretation, Kline does not advocate a “merit principle” that competes with the presence of redemptive grace, either in the case of Abraham or national Israel. Kline does not deny that Spirit-wrought faith characterizes the “meritorious” obedience of Abraham or national Israel. Kline does not advocate a republication of the covenant of works with Adam within the theocracy of Israel; rather, he advocates a works principle adjusted to the realities of sin and redemption. This principle is redemptively recalibrated through Abraham and ends up reenacting the sin and exile of Adam when applied to (apostate) national Israel.

Kline’s understanding of the works principle grows out of the convergence of a redemptive and typological intrusion of the heavenly kingdom in Canaan (vertical) and a redemptively recalibrated works principle in Abraham (horizontal). Both features conspire to offer a redemptive works principle that tethers the Spirit-wrought obedience of sinners to the acquisition or maintenance of a typological land inheritance.

The works principle tethers Israel’s continuation in the land of Canaan to an appropriate expression of fidelity to the Lord of the covenant. 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. The unique application of the sign of circumcision in malediction to national Israel involves the loss of the typal kingdom—a feature that does not come into view in the apostasy of individuals in the covenant of grace in its Abrahamic and new administrations.

Kline’s viewpoint is perhaps best described as an administrative re-enactment within national Israel of the outcome of the covenant of works with Adam, adjusted to the realities of sin, grace and redemptive typology, resulting in exile from the inheritance-land of Canaan. While other interpretations of Kline would suggest he endorses substantial republication of the covenant of works with Adam, the line of argument 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

The following sections will outline Geerhardus Vos and John Murray’s theologies of the Mosaic covenant. The aim here is not the depth of coverage given to Kline. Rather, the goal is to expound and analyze both in order to demonstrate in basic structure how they relate to Kline. What will come into view is the virtually exclusive focus on the unity of the covenant of grace in the application of redemption in Murray. Murray notes properly the unity of the various administrations of the covenant of grace, and both Vos and Kline affirm this baseline theological observation. However, Vos’s theology of intrusion and his development of redemptive typology are not given much, if any, emphasis in Murray. Vos notes how redemptive intrusion and typology converge at the national level of Israel’s identity and provides a lense through which we can understand the redemptive historical significance of the exile. It is these themes in Vos that Kline develops extensively.

I. John Murray

This section will offer a brief survey of Murray’s theology of the Abrahamic and Mosaic administrations of the covenant of grace. In relation to Kline, we will see that Kline and Murray share an often overlooked theological perspective on the nature of the Mosaic covenant. Murray maintains that both the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are sovereign administrations of covenant grace—a point with which Kline is in full agreement. Murray accents that the covenant of grace in both its Abrahamic and Mosaic administrations is unilateral in its establishment, but bilateral in its outworking, consisting essentially in union and communion with the Lord. 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 of either the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants and instead concentrates his attention on the nature of the covenantal communion bond common to each administration.

A. The Abrahamic Covenant

Murray argues that there are two distinctive features that arise in the Abrahamic covenant. First, Murray pinpoints “the solemn sanction by which the Lord confirmed to Abraham the certainty of the promise that he would inherit the land of Canaan.”[241] Second, and growing out of this feature, there “is the reference to keeping and breaking the covenant (Gn. xvii. 9, 10, 14).”[242] The former accents unilateral establishment of the covenant of grace by God; the latter accents the bilateral outworking of that covenantal arrangement in union and communion with the Lord.

Pertaining to the first distinctive feature, Murray notes that the Abrahamic covenant displays the nature of a redemptive covenant. He says that “a covenant is a divine administration, divine in its origin, establishment, confirmation and fulfilment. It is not Abraham who passes through between the divided pieces of the animals; it is the theophany. And the theophany represents God. The action therefore is divinely unilateral. It is confirmation to Abraham, not confirmation from him.”[243] The Abrahamic covenant is sovereignly administered by God in the form of a self-maledictory oath, and this accents the “divine sovereignty and faithfulness as brought to bear upon and as giving character to the covenant constituted.”[244]

Murray explains further that the Abrahamic covenant centrally features union and communion with the Lord, when he writes, “the intimacy and spirituality of the blessing which the covenant imparts. The essence of the blessing is that God will be the God of Abraham and of his seed, the characteristic promise of the Old Testament, ‘I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.’ In a word, this consists in union and communion with the Lord.”[245] At the heart of the covenant of grace lies union and communion with the Lord in the sacred bond of a mutual embrace.

The second key feature that stands out in the Abrahamic administration of the covenant of grace arises with regard to the mutuality of the covenant. Murray observes,

With reference to ... the necessity of keeping the covenant and the warning against breaking it, we cannot suppress the inference that the necessity of keeping is complementary to the added richness, intimacy, and spirituality of the covenant itself.... (T)he Abrahamic [covenant] is concerned with religious relationship on the highest level, union and communion with God.... The keeping of the covenant, therefore, so far from being incompatible with the nature of the covenant as an administration of grace, divine in its initiation, confirmation, and fulfilment, is a necessity arising from the intimacy and spirituality of the religious relation involved. The more enhanced our conception of the sovereign grace bestowed the more we are required to posit reciprocal faithfulness on the part of the recipient.[246]

Murray’s point is that the monergism of the initiation of the Abrahamic covenant—its unilateral establishment—is unto union and communion with the Lord. The goal of the Abrahamic covenant is both the retrieval and consummation of the covenantal communion bond between God and his blood-bought people. The spiritual character of the covenantal relation demands both sovereignly dispensed grace and reciprocal faithfulness on the part of the recipient. Put incisively, “The necessity of keeping the covenant on the part of men does not interfere with the divine monergism of dispensation.”[247]

Murray is clear, then, that “without question the blessings of the covenant and the relation which the covenant entails cannot be enjoyed or maintained apart from the fulfilment of certain conditions on the part of the beneficiaries.”[248] However, Murray is quick to qualify by saying that such conditions are not conditions of the covenant itself (i.e., its establishment), but conditions for the “continued enjoyment of this grace and of the relation established” by the sovereign grace of God. [249] Therefore, there is a specific sense in which the Abrahamic covenant is conditional; as Murray argues, “the reciprocal responses of faith, love and obedience, apart from which the enjoyment of the covenant blessing and of the covenant relation is inconceivable. In a word, keeping the covenant presupposes the covenant relation as established rather than the condition upon which its establishment is contingent.”[250]

In this light, breaking the covenant of grace brings into view something very distinctive. He says, “By breaking the covenant what is broken is not the condition of bestowal but the condition of consummated fruition.” Covenant breaking short-circuits the fruition of the covenant in eschatological beatitude. To break the covenant of grace is ultimately to forfeit the perfecting of the mutual embrace in union and communion with the Lord.

B. The Mosaic Covenant

Murray begins his treatment of the Mosaic covenant by reminding his readers of a critical point regarding the conditional character of the Mosaic covenant. He says, “At the outset we must remember that the idea of conditional fulfilment is not something peculiar to the Mosaic covenant.”[251] He says this in light of his extensive treatment of the precise sense in which the Abrahamic covenant is conditional in its outworking. Given the fact that the Abrahamic covenant is conditional as surveyed above, Murray reasons that conditionality itself “does not of itself provide us with any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic.”[252] In other words, both are distinct administrations of the covenant of grace—both are unilaterally established yet bilateral in their outworking.

Building on the fact that the Mosaic covenant fulfills the promises to Abraham and the patriarchs (Exod 2:24), Murray argues that “the spirituality of relationship which is the centre of the Abrahamic covenant is also at the centre of the Mosaic. ‘And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God’ (Ex. vi. 7; cf. Dt. xxix. 13).”[253] In other words, the “religious relationship on the highest level is contemplated in both, namely, union and communion with God.”[254] He continues, “We must not, therefore, suppress or discount these important considerations that the Mosaic covenant was made with Israel as the sequel to their deliverance from Egypt ... the Mosaic covenant also is a sovereign administration of grace, divinely initiated, established, confirmed, and fulfilled.”[255]

An entailment of this observation is as follows:

It is too frequently assumed that the conditions prescribed in connection with the Mosaic covenant place the Mosaic dispensation in a totally different category as respects grace, on the one hand, and demand or obligation, on the other. In reality there is nothing that is principally different in the necessity of keeping the covenant and of obedience to God’s voice, which proceeds from the Mosaic covenant, from that which is involved in the keeping required in the Abrahamic. In both cases the keynotes are obeying God’s voice and keeping the covenant (cf. Gn. xviii. 17–19; Ex. xix. 5, 6).[256]

Murray seeks to safeguard the underlying continuity between the Abrahamic and Mosaic administrations of the covenant of grace. He argues that each is sovereignly administered by God, yet the common concern of each is redemptive union and communion with the Lord in the sacred bond of a mutual embrace. The mutuality of embrace and continuation in the covenantal communion bond by faith and obedience are central in both administrations of the covenant of grace.

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. In other words, Murray seeks to avoid the idea that the essence of the Mosaic covenant is a substantial republication of the covenant of works made with Adam. Murray has in view not only substantial republication but also classical dispensationalism that seeks altogether to remove grace from the Mosaic covenant. He wants to ensure that his readers understand that at the level of the ordo salutis, the application of redemption, there is a single, organic, progressively administered covenant of grace. The Abrahamic and Mosaic, then, at the level of the ordo salutis, are one in substance.

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 Canaan as a typical paradise-land, along with its theological implications for the uniqueness of national Israel in redemptive history. That is not to say Murray does not believe in intrusion and redemptive typology within the theocracy, but it is to say that he does not develop such features in his treatment of the Mosaic covenant.

How does this situate him in relation to Kline? If Kline is viewed as an advocate of substantial republication, then Murray’s comments would stand over against Kline’s views in the strongest conceivable way. However, if 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. However, we could also say that Kline moves well beyond Murray in matters of intrusion, redemptive typology, and the way that Israel redemptively reenacts the sin and exile of Adam.

II. Geerhardus Vos[257]

While Vos writes years before Murray, and would concur with Murray’s basic theology of the ordo salutis within the Mosaic covenant, he gives more attention to the realities of intrusion and redemptive typology than does Murray.

Perhaps the best way to summarize Kline’s theology of the Mosaic covenant is that it seeks to refine Vos and extend his basic insights. In fact, both in Treaty of the Great King and Kingdom Prologue, Kline uses language and concepts that seem to derive from Vos’s Biblical Theology. 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’s work.

Vos observes that there is a connection between the obedience of national Israel and the retention of the inheritance privileges in Canaan. He says,

It is plain, then, that law-keeping did not figure at that juncture as the meritorious ground of life-inheritance. The latter is based on grace alone, no less emphatically than Paul himself places salvation on that ground. But, while this is so, it might still be objected, that law-observance, if not the ground for receiving, is yet made the ground for retention of the privileges inherited. Here it can not, of course, be denied that a real connection exists. But the Judaizers went wrong in inferring that the connection must be meritorious, that, if Israel keeps the cherished gifts of Jehovah through the observance of His law, this must be so, because in strict justice they had earned them. The connection is of a totally different kind. It belongs not to the legal sphere of merit, but to the symbolico-typical sphere of appropriateness of expression.[258]

Kline echoes Vos’s formulation in both Treaty and Kingdom Prologue, where he speaks of a “principle of sovereign grace” regulating the relationship between Yahweh and national Israel. He argues that Israel must maintain “an appropriate measure of national fidelity” to their heavenly King. Additionally, Kline speaks of all this occurring in a “typical-symbolic” holy realm of Canaan.

In addition to these points, Vos is explicit about Canaan as intrusion and the unique, typico-symbolic function of Israel in redemptive history. He says, “The theocracy typified nothing short of the perfected kingdom of God ... the abode of Israel in Canaan typified the heavenly, perfected state of God’s people. Under these circumstances the ideal of absolute conformity to God’s law of legal holiness had to be upheld.”[259] Vos understands that something unique appears within the theocracy of Israel—namely it was the earthly location that embodied a projected heavenly reality. Israel, dwelling in the land of Canaan, was a typological presentation of the holiness of the age to come. In that sense, the movement from wilderness to rest, from profane realm to holy realm, is a movement that marks out something unique in the history of salvation that is bound up with Israel dwelling in the land of Canaan.

Vos shows sensitivity to redemptive typology when he links apostasy to a unique relation to the intruded holy realm of Canaan. He says, “When apostasy on a general scale took place, they could not remain in the promised land. When they disqualified themselves for typifying the state of holiness, they ipso facto disqualified themselves for typifying that of blessedness, and had to go into captivity.”[260] This is true of believer and unbeliever alike within the theocracy. Israel as a nation was disqualified from continuing in the typical land of promise. Vos therefore discerns something unique and unrepeatable operating at the national level of Israel related to land inheritance and exile. Apostasy at the national level results in the loss of the typal kingdom.

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. He observes,

This did not mean that every individual Israelite, in every detail of his life, had to be perfect, and that on this was suspended the continuance of God’s favour. Jehovah dealt primarily with the nation and through the nation with the individual, as even now in the covenant of grace He deals with believers and their children in the continuity of generations. There is solidarity among the members of the people of God, but this same principle also works for the neutralizing of the effect of individual sin, so long as the nation remains faithful. The attitude observed by the nation and its representative leaders was the decisive factor.[261]

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. Israel, as a nation, loses the favor of God in light of apostasy from the covenant of grace. Vos shows sensitivity to the unique features of intrusion and redemptive typology in his account of Israel’s national apostasy and consequent loss of the typico-symbolic land inheritance.

Vos’s formulations move in the direction that Kline would develop extensively. Vos ascribes to the theocracy in general an intrusion of the holiness of the “heavenly, perfected state of God’s people.” He also speaks of “appropriateness of expression” that functions to maintain land inheritance, and that sustained apostasy from the covenant occasions the loss of land inheritance—a feature unique to the theocracy of national Israel.[262] While in baseline agreement with Murray on the unified nature of the grace present to the believer’s experience under the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace, Vos develops features of typology and intrusion within the theocracy that mark out the uniqueness and once-for-all function of Israel’s national identity within the boundaries of Canaan. Kline’s formulations of intrusion and redemptive typology are obviously dependent on Vos’s sensitivity to the same.

However, 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 Magedon 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 1960s.

Thus, when we relate Kline to both Vos and Murray, it is best to understand Kline as a theologian who preserves Murray’s insistence on the unity of the covenant of grace in its Abrahamic and Mosaic administrations, yet who advances Vos’s insights pertaining to redemptive intrusion and typology, accounting for features that uniquely re-enact in a substantially modified, redemptive setting the sin and exile of Adam.

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

We now move to assess the strengths and weaknesses of two different readings and/or appropriations of the work of Meredith G. Kline. As noted in our taxonomy, the key difference between these two lies in whether Kline taught some form of substantial republication or a version of administrative republication. In other words, is the Mosaic covenant in some way a substantial covenant of works? The first reading of Kline sees him articulating a form of substantial republication, perhaps most closely approximating the subservient covenant view found in the earlier tradition.[263] The second reading of Kline would see him as attempting to articulate a subspecies of view 4 above-that the Mosaic covenant is in substance and kind a covenant of grace, albeit with his own distinctive theological contributions.

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

The greatest strength of this reading of Kline lies in its robust affirmation of the substantially gracious character of the Sinaitic covenant. In this respect, it 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. That is, the obedience of Israel as a typological Son stands in organic continuity with the nature of Abraham’s obedience. Both Abraham and Israel exhibit a redemptively recalibrated works principle that is tethered to the typological land inheritance of Canaan. Particular emphasis is placed upon the common character of both Abraham and Israel’s works as being the Spirit-wrought fruit of faith, and, as such, not intrinsically meritorious before God.

Expanding on this strength, the redemptive works principle is expressed in the Abrahamic and Mosaic administrations of the covenant of grace and in that context parallels are generated between a redemptive works principle (with Abraham and Israel) and the non-redemptive works principle that applies to sinless federal heads (Adam or Christ). 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 works principle is redemptive-historically recalibrated through Abraham and in that sense passes into the Israelite theocracy at the national level.

This robust, absolute affirmation of the substantially gracious character of the Sinai covenant goes a long way in lessening the problematic character of “merit” language as applied to Israel and others. When properly understood, the “merit” of Abraham or Israel is a typical and prophetic sign of the meritorious obedience of Christ. Hence, 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.

As far as the presentation in our taxonomy goes, the emphasis placed on the significance of the gracious and redemptive character of the Mosaic covenant provides a systemic safety net for other linguistic or conceptual problems (perceived or real) that may linger in the proposal. In other words, whatever inconsistencies might remain are counter-balanced by the fact that the Sinai covenant is not in substance or kind a covenant of works, different from the covenant of grace.

Further, on 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. By keeping the merit of these two figures in these distinct categories, a categorically distinct theological backdrop is provided for distinguishing between the merit of Adam and Christ from that of Abraham and Israel.

When it comes to typological merit—Spirit-gifted obedience that has a formal similarity (but not substantial identity) to ex pacto merit—this view arrives at a far less controversial explanation of the core meaning of this language in Kline’s system of thought. Specifically, merit-language is not expressive of an ethical dynamic that is works-based in a way that is set absolutely and without qualification over against grace, even though there is plenty of room for significant contrast between the Mosaic covenant and new covenant, as outlined earlier. Instead, merit language is the way Kline depicts the typologically unique “tethering” of Abraham and Israel’s obedience to typical land blessing.

Further, Israel’s likeness to Adam is largely seen in their exile and failure, rather in their positive accomplishments. Israel’s sin is not a breaking of a covenant of works directly republished from Eden, but their failure to respond to the typical indicative of the covenant of grace, spurning the Lord through their apostasy. It is not so much pre-fall Adam that is recapitulated in Israel, but post-fall Adam. All these points help clarify the harmony between the redemptive postlapsarian situation and the works principle under Moses.

As we move toward weaknesses of this view of Kline, it is significant and commendable that this reading of Kline (outlined above) has acknowledged that his use of “merit” language is “unfortunate” in light of the history of the Reformed tradition, although it maintains that the substance of his views are orthodox. Even if Kline’s proposal on this reading is orthodox and coheres with the system of truth outlined in the standards, there are still areas that need further clarification and refinement.

First of all, the Westminster standards’ contrast between works and grace brings into view the differences between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. 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. This contrast between a pre-fall covenant of works, and the works principle enshrined within it, and as post-fall covenant of grace, is absolute.

When Kline speaks of a works principle that partakes of the essential character of the covenant of grace, this could tend toward confusion in the minds of those who want to reserve a works principle exclusively for the covenant of works with Adam in the Garden of Eden. In fact, some might find it hard to understand how a redemptively recalibrated works principle under the covenant of grace retains its “works” character, if the pre-fall covenant of works with Adam is the reality to which we compare it. It might seem more accurate to speak of a unique typological “tethering-principle” in which Spirit-wrought obedience is connected to typological land-blessing. Perhaps this concern is a semantic concern, but Kline’s goal is to coordinate the features similar between Adam and Christ, on the one hand, and Abraham and Israel, on the other hand. The language he chose for this purpose was a works principle that tethered sinless obedience to eschatological inheritance (for Adam and Christ) and Spirit-wrought obedience from sinners to the typal kingdom (Abraham and Israel). It is noteworthy that he only uses the language of works principle instead of “republished covenant of works” largely in light of his concern to avoid confusion on this point.

This question, however, raises another concern that runs perhaps a bit deeper. That is the concern of his application of merit language to sinners who are not federal heads. In other words, the Reformed tradition has applied some concept of ex pacto merit to both Adam and Christ (as the Last Adam). However, it 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). What complicates matters is that our standards use merit language in a way that reflects the historic definitions of what specifically constitutes merit (particularly in the case of Christ) as well as the inability of sinners to merit anything from God (either eternal life, forgiveness of sins, or the temporal things of this life).

Kline, in order to explain complex biblical phenomena, chose language that is rigorously defined within the historic Reformed tradition to explain the nature of the obedience of sinless federal heads, and he applied it analogically to typological instances of Spirit-wrought obedience within redemptive history. This move is bound to create discomfort among those familiar with the restricted use of such technical language, as well as the distinctive referents to which such technical language is ordinarily applied.

Perhaps it would serve the church better, and allay concerns from those who use merit language in a historically narrow and technical sense, to talk about the obedience of Abraham and Israel as unique and unrepeatable instances of an obedience that is prophetically typical of the “meritorious” obedience of Christ. Perhaps it would be useful to speak of such obedience an instance of a redemptively recalibrated works principle that applies to typical land inheritance. Perhaps the use of merit language could be replaced with different language in order to avoid confusion.

However, we need to be sensitive to the qualifications and nuances Kline himself provides when he applies the language of “typological” merit to figures in redemptive history (e.g., Abraham or Israel). In other words, what is critical is not that the term is applied (or not applied) to unique instances of obedience in redemptive history, but the precise meaning of that term as it is applied to figures other than Adam or Christ. The nuanced distinctions Kline makes in outlining the precise function and content of “typological merit” must certainly be appreciated by critics. While not always directly engaging the historic Reformed discussions of the nature of merit, the qualifications Kline makes regarding the meritorious function of their obedience surely reveal his Augustinian and Calvinistic convictions.

At the same time, legitimate questions can continue to be raised regarding the usefulness of these qualifications as applied to the term merit. Kline’s qualifications, as understood within this interpretive paradigm, are sufficient to stave off the charge of heterodoxy. Nonetheless, some could think that the qualifications are useful in themselves, but that they lose utility insofar as they apply to a nuanced view of typological merit in distinction from ex pacto merit. Thus, the question remains whether or not it 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.

We will now turn to an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the reading of Kline that construes him as advocating a substantial republication of the covenant of works.

II. Kline and the Substantial Interpretation: Strengths and Weaknesses

In terms of our taxonomy, this reading of Kline is distinguished by its affirmation that a covenant of works is in some way a part of the substance of the Sinai covenant, or that the Sinai covenant is in substance or kind a covenant of works in contrast to a covenant of grace. The language utilized to express this fact has been varied, but (on this reading) produces a similar theological result. The nature of the Mosaic covenant is said to be “legal” or governed by a works principle in contrast to grace; it is said to be a different covenant that is different in kind from characteristically gracious Abrahamic covenant; it is said to be a covenant that is itself not gracious; or that it places Israel under an arrangement that is fundamentally similar or analogous to the original covenant of works with Adam. Put absolutely, the Sinai covenant itself is therefore substantially not a covenant of grace, but a distinct covenantal arrangement governed by a works principle. Put relatively, this language 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.

At the outset we must emphasize that in classifying this reading of Kline as a form of “substantial republication,” we are not implying (on this reading or any other) that Kline taught that salvation was by works in the Old Testament. As the previous sections of this report have made clear, Kline taught that this arrangement only had reference to the typal kingdom of Canaan. Instead, when we classify this reading of Kline as substantial republication, we mean that the condition giving this covenantal arrangement its distinctive character was “works,” not grace or faith. 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.

Perhaps the 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. One need look no farther than the Decalogue itself, in which the Sinai covenant is epitomized. The preface to the Decalogue reveals that the ethical dynamic of the Sinai covenant is fundamentally gracious. It is founded not first and foremost on what Israel will do for God, but what God has already done for Israel. God also promises “mercy” in offering blessing to those who keep his commandments. This “mercy” is thoroughly redemptive in character, and brings into view Israel’s inherent unworthiness of any promise of reward. The fifth commandment also contains a promise of long life and blessing to those who are obedient to the law with reference to the typal kingdom. The Apostle Paul cites this verse with its annexed promise and applies it to those in the new covenant (of grace). It is difficult to account for these passages if the promised blessings are evidence of a works principle that is in sharp contrast to grace and expressive of a covenant of works arrangement.

When we consider the circumstances surrounding the Sinai covenant, similar points can be made. Prior to the ratification of the covenant at Sinai, God calls his people a royal priesthood and a holy nation. These titles are utilized by Peter and applied to the new covenant churches in his first epistle. Likewise, in the ratification ceremony itself, the covenant is sealed with blood, which is also sprinkled on the people. This ceremonially signifies forgiveness of sins through the redemptive blood of Christ. The role of a mediator in the giving of the Mosaic law is also significant here, not to mention Moses’s mediatorial role in this era more broadly considered. As a type of Christ, his typical mediation hovers over the entire arrangement (moral and ceremonial law), ensuring that every aspect of it is infused with and placed in the context of redemptive grace. A mediator implies a redemptive arrangement. As Paul points out, even the law itself was given by the hand of a mediator, positioning its redemptive-historical function as one flowing out of and governed by grace.

Taken together, these gracious aspects of the Mosaic covenant (among many others) so permeate the Sinai covenant that they can only be adequately accounted for by positioning them (as does our confession) in the “substance” of this covenant. To describe this covenant as a different covenant, different in substance from other manifestations of the covenant of grace, is inconsistent with the biblical data on this point. To relegate such textual insights to another covenant operating simultaneously and in the background seems to place a strain on the biblical data, which presents the Sinai covenant as an organically unified transaction of which all these elements play a constitutive part (see below for further discussion on this point).

Another weakness arises in this position insofar as it asserts that there is a truly operative and functional meritorious works principle, substantially the same as that which operated in the Garden of Eden, in the Sinaitic covenant. These problems are perhaps sharpest when the meritorious works principle is said to be operative in a covenant that is different in substance or kind from the covenant of grace—a covenant that itself is described as being non-gracious.

First, this idea can involve a proposed redefinition of merit (at least for those who adopt it) that is different from what the standards assert.[264] We have noted above that our standards’ conception of merit involves the idea that a work must be perfect, personal, proportional, profitable, and non-indebted in order to earn a reward (i.e., proper merit). On the other hand, on this view, 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. God’s justice is expressed in his covenantal word, and therefore the fulfillment of the condition is a matter of merit according to simple justice. The question of the disproportionate value of the work and reward, as well as the fact that all obedience is already owed to God is ultimately irrelevant to determining its meritorious character.

While Kline and others have rejected these principles of disproportionality and non-indebtedness, the standards regularly employ them. They do this when assessing the potential obedience of Adam, the disobedience of sinners, and the perfect obedience of Christ.[265] Adam’s obedience would have been both already indebted to God (WCF 2.2, 7.1), but also disproportionate to the reward (WCF 7.1). These same principles are appealed to in the standards’ rejection of the idea that a redeemed sinner can merit pardon of sin or eternal life at the hand of God (WCF 16). They also extend them to the sinner’s inability to merit anything at the hand of God on a principle opposite grace, including temporal blessings (LC 193).

Finally, these principles also underlie the standards’ conception of Christ’s merit, which affirms the necessity of his divine nature relative to the principle disproportionality, and asserts the free character of his obedience (relative to the principle of non-indebtedness). Simply stated, because Christ performs an obedience that is proportional to the reward and one that is not already due to God, he can truly, strictly, and properly merit salvation and eternal life for his people. 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.

Moreover, the 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. It is certainly true that proponents of this view seek to “qualify” the merit of these figures, taking into account their sinfulness and the postlapsarian situation. Moreover, the blessings “earned” are often limited to temporal or typological blessings, as opposed to soteriological ones. But insofar as their “merit” is a subspecies or manifestation of the works principle in substantial contrast to the principle of grace and is actually operative upon believing Israel, this affirmation creates theological problems. 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. In this way, what is a potential linguistic problem on the administrative reading becomes on the substantial reading a bona fide theological problem. The language becomes expressive of a covenantal-ethical dynamic that is substantially characterized by and indicative of a covenant of works as opposed to a covenant of grace.

It is not clear how this idea is consistent with man’s inherent sinfulness and his estate of sin and misery in which even the least of his sins deserve eternal death. How can an obedience that deserves every temporal and eternal misery also function as the meritorious ground of a temporal reward in a substantial covenant of works? How can an inherently demeritorious obedience fulfill the condition of a substantial covenant of works that a perfectly just God can assess as meritorious? How can a totally depraved sinner relate to God on a principle that stands in contrast to God’s grace to sinners? Our standards contain several statements that amount to a blanket rejection of the idea that fallen man can merit any blessing from God.[266] It is not immediately apparent how these affirmations can systematically cohere.

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). In its discussion of the moral law, it explicitly asserts that “the promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due them from the law as a covenant of works” (WCF 19.6). The original proof-texts do seem to bring into view the temporal blessings promised to Israelites during the Mosaic economy. The passages cited from Leviticus (26:1, 10, and 14) arise in the context of the blessings promised for Israel’s obedience to the law. These texts are explicitly collated with Ephesian 6:2–3, which cites the fifth commandment and the promise of long life in the land, again bringing into view temporal blessings. Likewise, Ps 37:11 is coordinated with Matt 5:5 (“the meek shall inherit the land”), which lend weight to the same point. It seems (at the very least) that the direction of the assembly’s thought is away from the idea that the temporal blessings of the land would be “due” to them from the law as a substantial republication of the covenant of works (i.e. meritoriously).

Again, these problems become more acute when obedience is said to function as the “meritorious ground” or reward, and in this way the “basis” or “cause” of the reward proffered in the Mosaic covenant. This way of speaking is not consistent with our standards, which refer to the best works of sinful humans (so far as merit is concerned) as deserving only God’s wrath and curse, and being the basis only of his condemnation (outside of Christ). Under an “administrative” reading of Kline this is largely a linguistic inconsistency when measured against the tradition. But when this phenomenon is said to be the expression of a principle of “works” in substantial contrast to or opposite “grace,” or of a covenant that is different in substance or kind from the covenant of grace (i.e., one that is not gracious), the inconstancy becomes more theological and substantive in character.

While it is highly commendable that this view seeks to limit the meritorious works principle to temporal and typological blessings, this qualification does not remove all the potential difficulties with the proposal. Those for whom the types were made continue to be depraved sinners, deserving of no blessings whatsoever—whether temporal or eternal. These types can only function in a way that is consistent with the moral nature of those who make use of them. That is why our standards regularly speak of types of the Old Testament that function with regard to believer’s “faith in the Promised Messiah” with reference to their being built up in “grace” and the “forgiveness of sins” (WCF 7.5). It is simple truism of biblical revelation and Reformed theology that no obedience of a sinner can function as the meritorious ground or basis of any blessing before God. Whether the blessing is a type or the reality, the person performing the work remains unable to perform a work that can function in this way before God. Simply relegating the blessing obtained to the earthly, temporal, or typological level does not address this underlying theological difficulty.

Finally, it is not readily apparent how this redefined view of merit accounts for the unique nature of Christ’s infinite merit as the God-man. If disproportionality is no longer systemically relevant for determining the meritorious character of the creature’s obedience, then it seems to follow that the proportionality of Christ’s obedience to the reward of the everlasting inheritance of the kingdom of heaven would also be irrelevant. In short, it is not clear how the redefined view of merit affects our conception of Christ’s work.

Some possible trajectories appear significantly problematic. While many proponents of republication have not yet applied the proposed redefinition of merit to the merit of Christ, others have moved in this direction.[267]

In our Reformed and confessional tradition, Christ’s obedience and death, considered absolutely and in itself, had an infinitely meritorious value. In the language of the Canons of Dordt, it was in itself infinitely meritorious such that it was sufficient to make satisfaction for each and every man, although it was intended only for the elect in the context of the covenant of redemption.[268] Although the application of Christ’s infinite merit was shaped covenantally (i.e., it was applied only to those whom the Father had given him), its meritorious character was based upon its intrinsic value as the obedience of the God-man. Put another way, it is not the covenantal purpose of the obedience that is the determinative factor in assigning a meritorious character to Christ’s obedience, but its intrinsic character as the perfect, personal, proportional, profitable, and non-indebted obedience that only he can offer for the salvation of sinners.

A. Weaknesses Related to the Covenant of Works

Another weakness of this view arises when we consider the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of works. Above we noted how versions of substantial republication are difficult to harmonize with the idea of that the covenant of works is unrenewable—i.e., it is a covenant that cannot be actually renewed with the sinner.[269] These weaknesses might also be applied to this, although we will not repeat them here. Additionally, 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). This requirement is presented as the essential condition which distinguishes it from the covenant of grace, which requires faith as the condition to interest believers in Christ (WCF 7.3; LC 32). Because this requirement is absolute—the least sin being a violation of the perfect law of God—any modification to this standard would compromise its essential character as a covenant of works.

We have already seen how the subservient covenant view attempted to modify the covenant of works by way of addition—augmenting the requirement for perfect obedience to the moral law with stipulations regarding obedience to the ceremonial and judicial laws. The basic problem with this theological move was that it did not substantially modify the condition of the covenant of nature or works. The result was that the subservient covenant remained essentially indistinct from a covenant of works. Here the problem moves in the opposite direction. The condition of the Mosaic covenant is modified by way of subtraction. 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.

Herman Witsius, addressing a somewhat different topic in a different context, makes a point about the unmodifiability of the covenant of works that is relevant here. Dealing with the question of the abrogation of the covenant of works, Witsius addresses the idea that God might “transact here with man on a different condition, whereby, forgiving the former sin, he would prescribe a condition of an obedience less perfect, than that which he stipulated in the covenant of works.”[270] In other words, rather than requiring perfect obedience, God would simply require imperfect obedience as the condition. For Witsius, “such a transaction would be so far from a renewal of the covenant of works, that it would rather manifestly destroy it.”[271] The presupposition of Witsius’s argument lies in the unmodifiability and unchangeable character of the covenant of works. For this reason, when he deals with the Sinaitic covenant, he argues that it was not “formally the covenant of works” because “God did not require perfect obedience from Israel, as a condition of the covenant, as a cause of claiming the reward, but sincere obedience, as an evidence of reverence and gratitude.”[272] Witsius’s arguments presupposes the unmodifiable condition of perfect obedience inherent in any covenant of works.[273]

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

Another weakness of this view centers upon the way it describes the relationship between the substantially works-based covenant transacted at Sinai with Israel, and the underlying covenant of grace. Put simply, the republished covenant of works at Sinai is at times spoken as if it were a separate covenant of a decidedly non-gracious or “works” variety, while at the same time operating as an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace. In other words, it has been said that the substance of the Mosaic covenant is the covenant of grace, while the administration is a covenant of works.

This formulation could certainly be taken in a sense that is perfectly harmonious with our standards. For example, if all that is meant is that the administration contains what we have referred to as a “declarative republication” of the covenant of works (without its actual renewal with Israel), this should present few problems. It would consist in nothing more than a redemptive-historical manifestation of the second use of the law. However, if what is meant by this is that a non-gracious covenant, different in substance or kind from the covenant of grace, is actually renewed or reenacted with Israel as a part of the administration of the covenant of grace, certainly difficulties and weaknesses arise.

It is not apparent how such a renewal of this covenant can meaningfully be said to be an administration of grace. Simply stated, anything that functions as an “administration” of the covenant of grace must, in fact, administer grace to those who are under it. Such it is with the other types, ceremonies, and other ordinances delivered to the Jews. 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).[274] A covenant of works, by definition, administers “works” (not grace) to those who are party to it. It is not clear how such a covenant can function as an administration of the covenant of grace. A reenacted or renewed covenant of works—itself a non-gracious and non-redemptive covenant—does not naturally harmonize with the idea that it is also a means by and in which God communicates such redemptive benefits to Israel.

In keeping with this, a similar weakness arises when we consider the proposed “typological” function of this renewed or reenacted covenant of works. As typology is a subset of the broader category of the administration of the covenant, the same basic weakness arises. The proposed renewed or reenacted covenant of works with Israel is said to function typologically under the broader category of the covenant of grace. This formulation does not seem to harmonize easily with the conception of typology reflected in our confession. According to our standards, typology is an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace in the Old Testament, which in turn is described as the outward means of the Old Testament era for communicating grace to the elect of that era. Saving grace was not simply administered merely as a consequence or by-product of these types.[275] Rather, saving grace was present by and in these types, and in this way communicated grace to believers.[276] In terms of our confessional definitions, to say that something is an administration of grace means that grace is communicated by and in that thing. It is not clear how a works principle in sharp contrast to grace can be consistently said to be a means by and in which God communicates grace. A covenant of works administers “works,” not grace, to those within its bounds. It difficult to see how such an actual reenactment of a substantial covenant of works coheres with the administration of the covenant of grace under Moses.[277]

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. Simply stated, there were really only two categorical options for speaking of the Mosaic covenant within the systemic framework of historic Reformed covenant theology, with various other possible permutations under each.

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

Proponents of various versions of substantial republication can also run into potential weaknesses regarding the “uses” of the law. This issue was already identified by a figure like Francis Roberts (mentioned above), who identified a key antinomian error in their identification of the Sinai covenant as substantially a covenant of works.[278] The basic problem can be stated simply: if the Sinai covenant is a covenant of works, particularly as it is reflected in the “Torah-covenant of works” made at Mt. Sinai, how can that Decalogue (the epitome of the Sinai covenant) also serve as a rule of life for those in the covenant of grace? Raising this question does not mean that all those who argue for substantial republication are automatically “antinomian.” Nor does it mean that those who argue for a substantial republication have no way to find another aspect of God’s revelation to function as the rule of life of Christians. It does mean that there is historical precedent for concerns related to how substantial republication may weaken the theological basis for the third use of the law, and create a level of instability for its consistent and vigorous affirmation.

Below we will note two weaknesses related to this reading or appropriation of Kline’s view and our standards’ understanding of the uses of the law. While each of them is distinct, they all share in common the tendency of this view to identify the moral law itself with the covenant of works. Nevertheless, these weaknesses arise in regards to the second (i.e. convicting) and third (i.e. normative) uses of the law.

The first weakness concerns the third or “normative” use of the law. 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). In particular, the Ten Commandments delivered at Mt. Sinai (i.e., the moral law) “directs and binds them to walk accordingly” (19:6). Moreover, the confession describes the ethical dynamic of the Ten Commandments as one that is expressive of the covenant of grace. The preface, in particular, couches the “imperatives” of the Decalogue within the gracious and redemptive “indicative” of redemption typified in Israel’s bondage in Egypt (LC 101). Even the blessings and threatenings of the Decalogue function in a way that is consistent with and expressive of the covenant of grace (WCF 19:6), and in contrast to the covenant of works.[279]

It is not clear how these affirmations are consistent with this view. In it the Mosaic covenant, which is epitomized in the covenant made at Mt. Sinai and expressed in the Decalogue, is a different covenant, different in kind from the covenant of grace. The ethical dynamic at the heart of this “Torah covenant of works” is not that of the principle of grace, but the principle of works. Instead of their obedience functioning as the proof and ratification of faith in God’s redemptive grace, the distinctive function or characteristic of obedience is to function as the meritorious ground or basis of retained blessing in the land.[280] It is commendable that most proponents of republication wish to affirm the third use of the law in the life of the believer. But 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. Above we noted that the issue of creation and covenant in itself is not determinative in this present debate. Both advocates and opponents of a kind of a republication of the covenant of works at Sinai have argued for the covenantal nature of creation. The same variety can be found among those who more sharply distinguish between creation and covenant (as do our standards in SC 12). However, when systematically coupled to a tendency to merge law and covenant, or a resistance to distinguishing law and covenant, this idea raises a potential theological weakness. 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—at least in the way that the standards describe this function. That which is inherently a “covenant of works” cannot serve as a rule of life.

Secondly, weaknesses arise when we consider the second or “convicting” use of the law. Again, this use is not enumerated as the “second use” in our standards, but it does speak of the law as a rule of life “discovering the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives” in order to bring about “further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin” as well as their need for Christ’s perfect obedience. As the Larger Catechism puts it (95), the moral law in this way serves to “convince [both believers and unbelievers] of their disability to keep it.”

It is not immediately evident how this understanding of a republished covenant or works principle under Moses is consistent with this use of the law. On this view, the works principle manifested through the Mosaic covenant and applied to Israel’s land tenure requires only sincere, imperfect obedience without the assistance of grace. In other instances, certain other figures (Abraham, Noah) are said to in measure succeed in fulfilling the terms of this covenant (at least temporarily) and are granted rewards on the basis of the meritorious grounds of their works without the assistance of grace. Moreover, this phenomenon is said to operate according to a principle that is opposite to or in sharp contrast to grace. Simply stated, 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. Simply stated, it is not clear how the fulfillment of a principle of imperfect obedience reinforces the idea of sinful man’s inability to keep even the least of God’s commandments (i.e., the law’s “second” use).

To reinforce a point made above, it is also difficult to see how this principle of reward for imperfect obedience really qualifies as a manifestation of a kind of “covenant of works” at all. Our standards subsume this reality under a very different category—not “works” but “grace.” The imperfect works of believers sincerely offered through faith are accepted by virtue of the grace of Christ—not as they function as the ground or basis of the reward without the presence of redemptive grace (i.e. merit). Because God has accepted our persons as righteous in Christ, he is also pleased to accept our imperfect obedience still tainted with the menstrual cloth (Isaiah 64:6) of our sinfulness (WCF 16.6). This dynamic of obedience and reward is not a manifestation of a covenant of works or a works principle that is substantially set in opposition to grace, but rather solely and only a manifestation of God’s grace.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

In closing this second part of the report we have come to conclusions that prompt reflections, drawing on both a taxonomy of historic views of republication and diverging interpretations and assessments of Meredith Kline’s teaching on covenant.

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.

2. There are a number of areas where substantial republication stands in tension with the standards. This does not mean that a proponent of substantial republication could not, to his own satisfaction, find ways to affirm the system of doctrine contained in our standards. A relative degree of tension does not always necessarily imply total incompatibility, particularly if this is relegated to a single area of doctrine. However, 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. These range from the doctrine of God and man, creation and covenant, and merit and good works, to typology and the uses of the law of God. A theological choir can certainly tolerate a dissonant note here or there in its song of testimony to the truth of God, but it becomes more difficult when certain elements begin singing in a different key. The song sung by each may have similar themes, but the distinctive elements of each do not resonate easily in the listeners’ ears.

3. In accordance with our mandate, our committee has not attempted to orchestrate a harmony of views on republication, or to select one theme or note to the exclusion of others. We recognize that in presenting material for study (accompanied by limited conclusions and recommendations) important unanswered questions remain with us. Can the church maintain its confessional unity and teach with one voice our system of doctrine despite a lack of total unanimity on various exegetical and theological questions regarding the doctrine of republication? Can we move forward peaceably despite some diversity on these matters?

4. As one part of our answer to that latter question, our report concludes with suggested topics for the consideration of presbyteries who have the responsibility of conducting licensure and ordination examinations. Many of the subjects that we recommend presbyteries to address are fraught with difficulty, and we encourage presbyters to be studied in these matters themselves, and to be patient with the candidates that come before them. In its Directory for Ordination intended for presbyteries, the Westminster assembly established a series of rules for those engaged in the examination of candidates for ministry. The first rule read: “That the party examined be dealt withall in a Brotherly way, with mildnesse of spirit, and with speciall respect to the gravitie, modesty, and quality of every one.”[281] Your committee would like to encourage the same spirit in our own presbyteries, not least when dealing with the subject of the republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant.

Part III – Conclusions

Conclusion

This committee has been asked to give its advice as to whether and in what particular senses the Mosaic covenant can be considered as a republication of the Adamic covenant in a manner that is consistent with the system of doctrine contained in our standards.

In this report, we have identified two basic senses of republication: substantial and administrative. Administrative republication is consistent with our standards in that it coherently maintains that the Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace. Examples of administrative republication include declarative, material, and misinterpretive republications, as well as an indirect, redemptive reenactment of Adam’s sin and exile (as described in our report).

Views of substantial republication which are theologically inconsistent with our standards include: pure and simple republications, subservient republications, mixed republications, and a direct, non-redemptive reenactment of Adam’s pre-fall covenantal probation.

Furthermore, our standards affirm that the merit of Christ, the God-man and mediator, consists in his perfect, personal, proportional, profitable, and free obedience. Christ offers his covenant-obedience and sufferings as the representative head of the elect. He thereby fulfills the requirements and removes the penalty of the original covenant of works. Precisely because fallen man cannot fulfill these conditions, he is unable (properly speaking) to merit a reward from God of any kind.

Although there are other important issues related to the question of republication addressed in our report, these points comprise the committee’s answer to the basic question posed to us by the general assembly.

Recommendations

The following conclusions emerge from our report:

Recommendation 1

That the General Assembly recommend that presbyteries examine a candidate’s understanding of the covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant, and his ability to communicate the exegetical, historical, and confessional considerations involved.

Recommendation 2

That the General Assembly commend to presbyteries the specific topics for the examination of candidates enumerated at the close of our report.

Recommendation 3

That the General Assembly distribute this report to the presbyteries and their candidates and credentials committees for study, and make the report available to interested parties who wish to study it.

Respectfully submitted,

Bryan D. Estelle
Benjamin W. Swinburnson
Lane G. Tipton
A. Craig Troxel
Chad B. Van Dixhoorn

Topics for the Examination of Candidates

The committee was compelled by the reports of past study committees, which had included pertinent questions or topics to be considered in the examination of candidates for ministry. The OPC’s Form of Government suggests that these theology exams are conducted in different keys, with a higher register for ordination exams than licensure. In particular, the exam for licensure “should not range as widely as it does for ordination” and the “licensure candidate should not be expected to answer with the same level of penetration and conviction as an ordinand.”[282] Given this difference, we commend the following topics and their appropriate pitch.

Licensure

  1. The covenantal structures of the Bible as articulated in our confessional standards.
  2. The confessional distinction between substance and administration in the covenant of grace; relating this to the Mosaic covenant.
  3. Christ as mediator in one person with two natures.

Ordination

  1. Distinguishing and relating the Adamic and Mosaic covenants.
  2. Ability to address the issue of republication both exegetically and theologically.
  3. The difference between a substantial or an administrative understanding of republication.
  4. If the candidate holds to a republication of a works principle in some sense in the Mosaic covenant, then he should be able to explain the following: how this republication is (1) in its purpose pedagogical, (2) in its nature typological, (3) in its symbols temporal, (4) in its focus eschatological, and (5) with respect to properly meritorious work by mere men, not attainable.
  5. Our standards’ teaching on merit with respect to Adam, sinners, and Christ.
  6. Exegetical foundations for the Adamic covenant as a covenant of works.
  7. Exegetical foundations for the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of grace.
  8. Distinguishing between the moral law as it functions within the covenant of works and the moral law as it functions within the covenant of grace as a rule for life.
  9. The continuing relevance of the covenant of works today.

GLOSSARY

Abrahamic covenant: in continuity with the previous administrations of the covenant of grace, and finding its perfect fulfilment in Christ, the Abrahamic covenant presents the patriarch as the father of a new humanity (Gen 12:1–3). It also focuses on typological promises regarding seed and land (Gen 12:7) and involves a ratification of the respective seed and land promises (Gen 15). In the Abrahamic covenant, the sign and seal of circumcision accents the mutuality of fellowship between the Lord and his covenant people (Gen 17:7–14).

accidental republication: in this understanding of republication the covenant of works is present in the Mosaic covenant merely as a byproduct of God’s intention and design. For example, it can be a byproduct of the misinterpretation theory. This would mean that there is no substantial republication of the covenant of works per se in the Mosaic covenant, but that such a republication is mistakenly perceived to be present through misunderstanding by the interpreter.

active obedience: in Reformed theology, that aspect of the obedience of Christ that conforms perfectly to the positive precepts of the moral law as a covenant of works. Unlike Christ our mediator, and prior to the fall, Adam was to offer “active” obedience only; he was not called to bear the penal sanction of the broken covenant of works, which is the “passive” aspect of obedience. (Christ’s obedience, as the Mediator of the covenant of grace and in distinction from Adam, includes both active and passive aspects).

Adamic covenant: see covenant of works.

administration: By “administration” of the covenant of grace, covenant theologians denote the outward means by which, or a redemptive era in which, the benefits of Christ’s redemption are communicated to the elect. Thus, while the covenant of grace is the same in substance in the old and new covenants, it is administered differently in the old covenant age of promise (e.g., through promises, types and sacrifices) than in the new covenant age of fulfillment and the advent of Christ (cf. WCF 7.5; 8.6).

administrative republication: republication occurs when the covenant of works is declared (but not made) or materially present in the administration of the covenant of grace. However, there is not a substantial republication of the covenant of works as the way of obtaining eternal life through perfect obedience.

anticipation: The historical relationship between a promised reality and its future realization.

anti-type: The heavenly (vertical) and consummate (horizontal) reality toward which earthly types point within the unfolding of covenant history. For instance, the earthly tabernacle in the Mosaic covenant was a “copy and shadow” of the heavenly reality (cf. Heb 8:5; 9:23–24).

antitypical: the heavenly and consummate fulfillment of what is typically portrayed in an earlier stage of covenant history.

apostasy: the abandonment of covenantal loyalty to the living and true God.

condition: in the context of covenant theology, a stipulation that qualifies the covenant as either one of grace or one of works. If the stipulation for eternal life and salvation is faith in Christ, it is a condition of the covenant of grace (LC 32). If the stipulation for eternal life is perfect obedience to God’s moral law, it is a condition of the covenant of works (LC 20).

consummation: coinciding with second coming of Jesus Christ, the consummation is the eschatological realization of God’s heavenly kingdom, including full disclosure of the glory of the triune God in the final judgment of the wicked and the full salvation of the righteous.

corporate: pertaining to a united group of individuals. In biblical categories, humanity is corporately included in Adam and the elect are corporately included in Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 5:12–19; 1 Cor 15:20–23).

cosmological: pertaining to the origin, structure and purposeful endpoint of the created world.

covenant: a mutually binding bond of communion between God and his people, sovereignly initiated by God, wherein he makes promises and calls for trust on the part of his people, entailing obligations of submission that are sanctioned by blessings and curses.

covenantal merit: work that meets a condition stipulated by God in a covenantal arrangement. “Covenant merit” is not proper merit; rather, it is a “loose” or “broad” use of the term and refers to a context in which only some of the essential conditions of “merit” are satisfied. For example, in the history of Reformed theology the term has been applied to Adam’s potential obedience in the covenant of works, which would have been perfect and personal. Thus, Adam could have satisfied two essential conditions in the definition of merit. But his work, in the nature of the case, would still have been (1) already owed to God (i.e. indebted), (2) in no way equal to the promised reward or the rewarder (i.e. disproportionate), and (3) requiring God’s assistance and enabling help to perform it. For this reason, Adam’s “covenantal merit” would not have been merit, properly speaking.

covenant history: broadly, the history of special revelation. More narrowly, it is the history of the various administrations of God’s covenantal kingdom.

covenant of creation: see covenant of works.

covenant of grace: a covenant in which God freely offers sinnerslife and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be savedand promising to give unto all those that are ordained untolife his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe (cf. WCF 7.3).

covenant of life: see covenant of works.

covenant of works: the first covenant made with man, in which life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity,upon condition of perfect and personal obedience. If the focus of the covenant of works rests on the outcome of the perfect obedience of Adam, the arrangement can be called the covenant of life (cf. SC 12). If the focus rests on the fact that the covenant of works occurs prior to the fall (and thus the need for redemption), the arrangement can be called the covenant of creation.

declarative republication: the covenant of works broken with Adam is declared at Mt. Sinai to communicate the grace of conviction of sin, and function antecedently as a schoolmaster to lead Israel to Christ.

direct, non-redemptive reenactment: on the reading of Kline as advocate of substantial republication, this view would understand the Mosaic covenant to enshrine a non-redemptive works principle that is republished from the prelapsarian covenant with Adam and thereby places Israel under what is in substance a covenant of works relative to land retention.

dispensationalism: an understanding of biblical history that asserts, among other distinctives, that Israel and the church have parallel-but-separate roles and destinies. The destiny of Israel is earthly, whereas the destiny of the church is heavenly. Dispensationalism, as a method of biblical interpretation, often sets itself over against covenant theology.

eschatological: that which pertains to eschatology (see eschatology).

eschatology: pertains to the last things. Prior to the fall, eschatology is the goal of the creation under the covenant of works. In this sense, eschatology pertains to the ultimate things held forth to Adam on condition of perfect obedience and, as such, precedes the estates of sin and grace. Eschatology also focuses on the last things, such as the individual (death and the afterlife), redemption (the gathering and perfecting of the elect) or the world (Christ’s return, the resurrection and final judgment, the eternal state).

exile: the expulsion of national Israel by God from the holy realm of Canaan due to sustained idolatry and disobedience.

ex pacto: literally “from the pact” or covenant. Some reformed theologians, such as Francis Turretin, have argued that Adam’s perfect and personal obedience ought to be viewed as meritorious, not in the strict or proper sense, but in the sense of meeting the terms of justice revealed in the covenant of works.

federal theology: the theological system that rests upon the idea that all of God’s dealings with humanity can be subsumed under the rubric of covenant, whether it be the covenant of works with Adam or the covenant of grace in Christ Jesus, the Second and Last Adam.

historia salutis: literally, “history of salvation.” Likely coined by Herman Ridderbos in 1957 in When the Time Had Fully Come, the term refers to the unfolding of salvation history from the fall until its climax in the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. Historia salutis brings into view the accomplishment of salvation by the triune God in redemptive history through the person and work of Christ.

hypothetical: something that is premised to be true for the sake of argument or to make a point, but need not be taken as actually true or possible.

indirect redemptive reenactment: language that describes the way that Israel’s sin and exile from Canaan as a typological Son (Exod 4:23) recapitulates in a context adjusted to sin and redemptive typology Adam’s sin and exile from Eden (Gen 3:22ff.). This view would also construe the works principle operative in Israel at the national level as a redemptively recalibrated principle, differing in substance from yet similar in function to the prelapsarian works principle in Eden. As such, the redemptive works principle that applies to national Israel tethers typical land maintenance to Israel’s corporate fidelity to the Lord under the covenant of grace.

intruded: The state of a future, heavenly reality that, prior to the consummation, appears in temporary earthly forms.

intrusion: Particularly in the writings of M. G. Kline, an intrusion denotes the projection of a future, heavenly reality in temporary earthly forms. The intrusion both veils and reveals the coming glory of God’s eschatological kingdom. Intrusion is invoked to explain extraordinary instances of judgment within the theocratic kingdom of Israel, whereby God previews in typological categories the final judgment to be executed at the consummation. Kline distinguishes between intrusion within the prelapsarian order of creation (protological intrusion) and the redemptive order from the fall until the first coming of Christ (redemptive or typological intrusion). See protological, and redemptive intrusion.

Kline, Meredith G. (Dec. 15, 1922–Apr. 14, 2007): an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Kline received his A.B. from Gordon College, Th.B. and Th.M. from Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania (1947), and Ph.D. in Assyriology and Egyptology from Dropsie College (1956). For five decades, Kline taught Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary (1948–1977), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (1965–1993), the Claremont School of Theology (1974–1975), Reformed Theological Seminary (1979–1983), and Westminster Seminary California (1981–2002). He is best known for his studies of covenant theology, but he also offered a wide-ranging corpus of books and articles on numerous facets of Old Testament theology.

law: most generally, a rule that governs conduct or action.

law, ceremonial: old covenant commandments that regulated rituals and symbolic actions. Ceremonial laws typified and applied Christ to his covenant people, separating them from the unbelieving world.

law, civil: in this report, those commandments in the Mosaic law that govern the civil aspect of the Israelite theocracy and deliver judgments on cases pertaining to socio-political relations, policy, or rule (e.g., Exod 21–22).

law, moral: those laws that reveal God’s unchanging holy nature and bind all men everywhere to personal and perfect obedience.

legibility: With reference to Kline’s writing, “typical legibility” brings into view the features of similarity between the Adamic and Mosaic covenant, particularly the relationship between the disobedience of the protological (Adam) and typological (Israel) sons of God and the respective losses of inheritance attributed to such disobedience (the eschatological and typological, respectively).

material republication: a second promulgation of a works principle that operates without reference to redemptive grace at any point or any level.

mediator: in Protestant theology, Jesus Christ, who as God and man discharges his office as a prophet, priest and king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.

merit: see proper merit and covenantal merit.

meritorious: the exhibition of merit. See proper merit and covenantal merit.

misinterpretation: failure to understand an author’s intended meaning.

misinterpretation principle: the notion that Paul, in texts such as Gal 3 and Rom 10:4–5, is refuting a Jewish misinterpretation of the law (namely, that the Mosaic law contained a substantial republication of the covenant of works).

misinterpretive republication: the idea that the covenant of works is not actually republished in a substantial sense in the Mosaic covenant but is present only in the misunderstanding of those who opposed Paul’s teaching of a substantially gracious Mosaic covenant. Hence, the language of contrast between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants rests in the minds of Paul’s opponents, but not in Paul’s actual theology.

mixed covenant: the view that the Mosaic covenant contains both the substance of the covenant of works and the substance of the covenant of grace, without relegating the former to a typological sphere (as does the subservient view). The covenant of works and covenant of grace are “partly” present together in the Mosaic covenant. Precisely how one covenant can contain both the substance of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace remains a key problem for the coherence of this position.

national fidelity: Israel’s corporate expression of faith under the Mosaic covenant that expresses an imperfect yet sincere obedience, that is accepted by God for the sake of Christ and supplies the ground for Israel’s continued maintenance of the typal kingdom. Alternatively, some could take this phrase to denote Israel’s imperfect obedience that merits land retention apart from the presence or operation of redemptive grace.

national Israel: the old covenant people of God defined in terms of national election and consisting of the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and their seed).

ordo salutis: denotes the sovereign work of the Spirit of Christ whereby believers are united to Jesus Christ, receiving him and all his saving benefits through faith in effectual calling (cf. SC 30).

organic: in covenant theology, organic denotes the integrated unity and diversity of God’s progressive, redemptive revelation that finds its consummation in Christ and his kingdom.

pactum salutis: the eternal, intratrinitarian covenant by which the members of the Godhead eternally ordain the salvation of the elect.

parenthesis: in redemptive history, an interval between two events in which a course of action is temporarily suspended.

passive obedience: that aspect of Christ’s undivided obedience by which he bears upon himself the penal sanctions of the broken covenant of works. Passive obedience climaxes in death upon the cross. See also active obedience.

pedagogical: that which pertains to a method of teaching.

positive replication: the notion that national Israel is placed under an Adamic principle of probation that operates at the typological level without the presence of redemptive grace.

postlapsarian: pertaining to what transpires after the fall.

prelapsarian: pertaining to what transpires prior to the fall.

pre-redemptive: denotes the period of time from the creation to the fall, and consequently the period of time prior to the need for and gracious promise of redemption.

probation: in Reformed theology, the temporary and provisional state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, prior to the consummation—or, as it turned out, prior to the fall. In this understanding, the probation of Adam would have ended had he remained upright under temptation and eaten of the tree of life, thereby advancing to glory and rest in perfected communion with God.

proleptic: in redemptive history, the presentation of a future state of affairs in an earlier historical form that, in turn, anticipates its consummate realization. For instance, the holiness of the age to come (i.e., consummate holiness of the future) was proleptically represented in the holiness of the original Edenic theocracy (see also redemptive renewal).

proper or real merit: reflecting a consensus within historic Reformed theology, a work in which a series of conditions are met, including that the work performed be personal (i.e., one’s own), perfect (without any flaw or defect), proportional (equal in value to the reward), non-indebted (not already owed to God), and performed by one’s own strength. Some of these conditions are present in covenantal merit (see above). See ex pacto or covenantal merit.

protological: Belonging to the “first things” of creation prior to the fall. For example, Adam is the “protos Adam” or “first Adam” insofar as he belonged to the original order of creation. The protological age that continues from creation to fall can be distinguished from the typological age that stretches from the fall to the coming of Christ. The protological can further be distinguished from the eschatological age that begins with the coming of Christ (realized eschatology) and is consummated with the second coming of Christ (future eschatology).

protological intrusion: see intrusion.

prototype: in Reformed theology, a historical feature in the pre-fall order of creation that both copies a heavenly reality and anticipates the historical consummation of the kingdom of God. A prototype is the historically prior reality in creation that, after the fall, supplies a basis for redemptive typology. For instance, the holy realm of Eden was the original, prototypical order that reflected in temporary forms the future glory of heaven. After the fall, the holy realm of Canaan is the typological order that reflects the same.

recapitulation: when a present event presents principles or states of affairs that are also (in qualified ways) contained in previous principles or states of affairs.

recapitulative republication: the idea that national Israel’s sin and exile from Canaan functions to present in typological forms adjusted to redemptive history the sin and exile of Adam from Eden.

redemptive-historical: an approach to biblical interpretation that understands Scripture as a divinely-revealed record of the history of special revelation, and that examines the organic and progressive movement of special revelation (after the fall) in light of its climax in Christ.

redemptive intrusion: the projection of the heavenly kingdom within the context of the covenant of grace. This can also be called typological intrusion as it distinguishes redemptive intrusion from the original projection of the holiness of the heavenly kingdom within the protological (prelapsarian) order of Eden.

redemptive renewal: In Kline’s understanding, redemptive renewal includes not only the regeneration of the sinner but the broader concept that the theocratic kingdom (Israel) appears after the fall in a redemptive form, thereby renewing the claims of the theocracy upon a redeemed people. See proleptic.

reenaction: While not seeking to undermine the unique role of Adam as a sinless federal head, reenaction claims there are theologically significant parallels between (1) the sin and exile of Adam as protological son of God and (2) Israel as typologial son of God, particularly the way that disobedience results in the loss of holy theocratic realms (i.e., Eden and Canaan, respectively).

replication: In Kline’s thought, replication is God’s act of copying or sketching heavenly realities in temporary earthly forms—forms that both veil and reveal the heavenly glory to come. In addition, in certain instances in redemptive history, key persons replicate in qualified ways either the apostasy of Adam or the fidelity of Christ as the kingdom of God develops through redemptive history toward consummation.

republication: In general, the re-presentation of a prior state of affairs, or principles, or laws, at a later period. In terms of recent theological controversy, republication is the idea that the Adamic covenant of works is presented a second time, with varying degrees of modification, in the Mosaic covenant.

sanctions: Unlike modern secular usage, covenant theology employs the term sanction to describe both negative and positive aspects of God’s covenantal relationship to his people. Sanctions are therefore the blessings or curses appended to God’s covenants in relation to their essential conditions, whether a covenant of works or covenant of grace.

Sinaitic covenant: see Mosaic covenant.

subservient covenant: the view that the Mosaic covenant in substance, and at the national level as opposed to the individual level, promises temporal life in Canaan upon condition of perfect obedience to the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws.

substance: in covenant theology, a discussion of the “substance” of God’s covenant involves the essential nature of, and/or condition of, the covenant. The covenant of grace promises eternal life and salvation through faith in Christ. The covenant of works promises eternal life on the condition of perfect, personal, exact and entire obedience to God’s moral law.

substantial republication: the view that the Mosaic covenant is essentially characterized as a works arrangement in terms of its fundamental principle or condition. A substantial republication of the covenant of works would therefore be different in kind from the covenant grace.

symbol: a temporary earthly feature in the history of special revelation through which the Lord revealed Himself and applied redemptive grace to his people.

synecdoche: a figure of speech by which a part refers, by extension, to a whole, or vice versa. For example, in the statement, “Brady won a Super Bowl,” “Brady” is synecdochal for the entire team.

taxonomy: a system, way or scheme of classifying (e.g, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy represent a taxonomy of Christian religion)

temporal: In contrast to what is eternal, a temporal feature is a created, contingent reality. All things temporal come to exist and depend for their existence on the creative and providential power of the triune God.

theocracy: literally means “rule of God.” In Kline’s thought, a theocracy refers to a holy realm in which the cult and culture are institutionally integrated under the rule of God.

theocratic kingdom: a kingdom that possesses distinctively holy features that belong to the reign of the triune God. In his covenantal kingdom, God seeks to commune with a holy people in a holy realm, advancing them beyond probation through the obedience of a federal head. Eden and Canaan are, respectively, protological and typological intrusions of this rule of God, anticipating its consummate reality in a new heavens and new earth where only the righteous in Christ shall dwell.

type: a divinely authored state of affairs (e.g., a person, place or institution) that images a heavenly reality and foreshadows its consummate realization through the work of an obedient federal head (i.e., the tree of life and Adam, or the paschal lamb and Christ).

typical: existing in a state of affairs that is designed by God to point toward a vertical (heavenly) and future (consummate) reality.

typological intrusion: see redemptive intrusion.

typological merit: distinct from proper or ex pacto merit that applies to the perfect and personal obedience of sinless federal heads (Adam or Christ), Kline argues that key figures in redemptive history offer unique instances of Spirit-gifted obedience in faith that tethers such obedience to the acquisition (Abraham) or maintenance (Israel) of the typal kingdom.

typology: in Reformed theology, divinely authored patterns in covenant history that in earthly and impermanent forms both model a heavenly reality and anticipate its consummate historical realization. After the fall, typological features in the history of special revelation find consummate fulfillment in the person, work and kingdom of Jesus Christ.

uniquely administered: pertaining to the discriminating features by which God dispenses his kingdom in a particular time and place. For instance, the Mosaic covenant is put into effect through the shedding of sacrificial animal blood (Heb 9:18–20) and the new covenant is put into effect through the blood of Christ (Heb 9:23–24).

Westminster assembly: a gathering of theologians and political observers from England and Scotland, meeting in Westminster Abbey from 1643–1653 to reform churches in the British archipelago. The assembly was responsible, among other things, for writing what has come to be called the Westminster standards.

Westminster standards: as employed by Presbyterian churches in the United States and Canada, a collective term for the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism only.

works principle: In Kline’s writings, a “works principle” is, on an administrative reading, a covenantal feature that tethers the acquisition or loss of a promised inheritance to the representative obedience or disobedience of a sinless federal head (Adam or Christ), a believer (e.g., Abraham), or a nation (Israel). As such, the works principle is not identical to the covenant of works with Adam, because it can operate in both pre-redemptive and redemptive settings. A works principle, on a substantial reading of Kline, would denote the reappearance of a graceless principle of Adamic probation, set in substantial contrast to redemptive grace, that is applied at the typological level to the nation of Israel.

Action by the Eighty-third (2016) General Assembly concerning the Report

On motion the General Assembly determined to recommend that presbyteries examine a candidate’s understanding of the covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant, and his ability to communicate the exegetical, historical, and confessional considerations involved.

On motion the General Assembly determined to commend to presbyteries the specific topics for the examination of candidates enumerated at the close of this report.

On motion the General Assembly determined to distribute this report to the presbyteries and their candidates and credentials committees for study, and make the report available to interested parties who wish to study it.


Endnotes

[1] See Robert Cara, “Redemptive-Historical Themes in the Westminster Larger Catechism,” in The Westminster Confession of Faith into the 21st Century: Essays in Remembrance of the 350th Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly, ed. J. Ligon Duncan III (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2009), 3:55–76. However, see LC 34 and WCF 7.5; 8.6.

[2] “In some sense” is historic language, which appears, for example, in Edward Fisher’s Marrow of Modern Divinity (London: G. Calvert, 1645), 7. This is merely a standard way of doing theology with a complex topic, e.g., the Son is entirely one with the Father in some sense (i.e. in being, power, and glory but not in personhood).

[3] The idea is from John Hollander, The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 21–22.

[4] Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1860; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 57–58. His exact words were, “The law of Moses was, in the first place, a re-enactment of the covenant of works.” In the same place, he continues by saying that the Mosaic covenant was also a national covenant. For fuller and carefully nuanced comments on the subject, see Hodge, Systematic Theology, in Three Volumes (1872–73; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 2.375–77.

[5] John Murray, Collected Writings (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977), 2:50.

[6] John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (1957; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 196.

[7] See, for example, the following: Lee Irons, “Redefining Merit: An Examination of Medieval Presuppositions in Covenant Theology,” in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, ed. Howard Griffith and John R. Muether (Reformed Theological Seminary, 2000), 253–69; Rowland S. Ward, God and Adam: Reformed Theology and The Creation Covenant (Wantrina, Australia: New Melbourne Press, 2003); R. Fowler White and E. Calvin Beisner, “Covenant, Inheritance, and Typology: Understanding the Principles at Work in God’s Covenants,” in By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification, ed. Gary L. W. Johnson and Guy P. Waters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 147–170; Bryan. D. Estelle, J.V. Fesko, and David VanDrunen, The Law Is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009); James T. Dennison, Scott F. Sanborn, and Benjamin W. Swinburnson, “Merit or ‘Entitlement’ in Reformed Covenant Theology: A Review,” Kerux 24.3 (2009): 3–152; Brenton Clark Ferry, “Works in the Mosaic Covenant: A Reformed Taxonomy” (master of theology thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2009). This thesis contains a bibliography at the end. Michael Brown and Zach Keele, Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored (Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship, 2012); Mark Jones, “In What Sense?” review of The Law Is Not of Faith, Ordained Servant 10 (2010): 115–119; Brian Lee, “Reconciling the Two Covenants in the Old Testament,” review of The Law Is Not of Faith, Ordained Servant 10 (2010):120–26; Cornelis Venema, “The Mosaic Covenant: A ‘Republication’ of the Covenant of Works? A Review Article: The Law Is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant,” Mid-America Journal of Theology 21 (2010): 35–102; David VanDrunen, “Israel’s Recapitulation of Adam’s Probation Under the Law of Moses,” WTJ 73 (2011): 303–24; Michael Brown, Christ and the Condition: The Covenant Theology of Samuel Petto (1624–1711) (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012); Brian Lee, “Why I Hold to Republication” Christian Renewal (13 Nov 2013): 41–43; Mark A. Collingridge and Brett A. McNeill, Republication: A Biblical, Confessional and Historical Defense (Paper submitted to PNW Presbytery, available on PDF). This paper also has a 15 page appendix by David Inks, “What John Calvin Really Said,” which is a polemic against Venema’s claims; J.V. Fesko (with response by Cornelis Venema), “The Republication of the Covenant of Works,” Confessional Presbyterian 8 (2012): 197–227; Cornelis Venema (with response by J.V. Fesko), “Sic et Non. Views in Review: II. Westminster Seminary California Distinctives? The Republication of the Covenant of Works,” Confessional Presbyterian 9 (2013): 157–87; Andrew M. Elam, Robert C. Van Kooten, and Randall A. Bergquist, eds., Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014). This is essentially (with only slight modification) the report that was submitted by the authors to the PNW Presbytery as “A Booklet on Merit in the Doctrine of Republication” (April 2013). This contains a bibliography at the end; J. V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), especially 138–67; David VanDrunen, Divine Covenants and Moral Order: A Biblical Theology of Natural Law, Emory University Studies in Law and Religion, ed. John Witte, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), especially 282–367; Lee Irons, “Review of Merit and Moses,” http://www.upper-register.com/papers/response-to-merit-and-moses.pdf.

[8] Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2.375.

[9] Hodge, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 58.

[10] See J. Gresham Machen, “The Active Obedience of Christ,” in God Transcendent and Other Selected Sermons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 172–80, but especially 172–73.

[11] This is not meant to contradict the confessional principle (WCF 1.9) about the “true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one).” The Reformers were well aware of medieval views on the interpretation of Scripture and wanted to avoid excesses that sometimes manifested themselves at that time.

[12] See Edmund P. Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961), 100–112.

[13] See Aaron C. Denlinger, Omnes in Adam ex Pacto Dei: Ambrogio Catarino’s Doctrine of Covenantal Solidarity and Its Influence on Post-Reformation Reformed Theologians, Reformed Historical Theology Series 8 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010).

[14] Ibid., 284.

[15] See ibid., 240.

[16] Klaus Kock, “Is There a Doctrine of Retribution in the Old Testament?” trans. T. H. Trapp, in Theodicy in the Old Testament, ed. J. J. Crenshaw, IRT 4 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983); originally published as “Gibt es ein Vergeltungsdogma im Alten Testament?” ZTK 52 (1955): 1–42.

[17] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume Two: Anthropology, trans. and ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2014), 130. Vos continues on this page to make it clear that he does not understand the law as an “independent covenant of works in Gal 3:19ff.”

[18] Ibid.

[19] See Geerhardus Vos, “Legalism in Paul’s Doctrine of Justification,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 383–99, especially 388. Vos says, “These [i.e., several Pauline passages that demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the law method of justification] are commonplaces of the Pauline theology. But it is plain that judgments of this class imply nothing derogatory to the law method of securing eternal life in the abstract. The disability under which the legal system labors is not inherent in the system itself, but arises wholly from the fact that men attempt to put it in operation in a state of sin.”

[20] See Justification Report of the Committee to Study the Doctrine of Justification (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2007), 35–36.

[21] WCF 19.7.

[22] See Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume Four: Soteriology, The Application of the Merits of the Mediator by the Holy Spirit, trans. and ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 154.

[23] See, for example, Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), 298.

[24] See especially Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Overland Park, KS: Two Age Press, 2000), 138. Representing M. G. Kline’s view fairly at this point, it is not the Mosaic covenant per se but the works principle of the eternal covenant (traditionally called the pactum salutis) intruded into the Mosaic covenant that Christ fulfilled. For comments on this congruence between the works principle in history and Jesus’ mission, see Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 352.

[25] In its discussions of covenant theology, the Westminster standards presume some degree of liberty in nomenclature, as is seen in the interchangeable designations “covenant of works” and “covenant of life” (WCF 7.2;19.1; LC 20; SC 12). The phrase “commonly called the covenant of grace” also suggests an awareness that other terminology may be used to refer to the same covenant arrangement (WCF 7.2).

[26] G. C. Berkouwer, The Sacraments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 134; and Belgic Confession, Article 33.

[27] Although God’s entering into covenant with humankind is an act of his providence, the law written on humankind’s heart as an act of his creation.

[28] More often than not, this is what Paul means by “law” in his epistles (e.g., Gal. 3:17). Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (1852; repr., Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, n.d.), 100.

[29] John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (London, 1645), 23.

[30] Rowland S. Ward, The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Study Guide, 3rd ed. (Wantirna, Australia: New Melbourne Press, 2004), 94.

[31] Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, 99.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ball, Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 4.

[34] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison, trans. George Musgrave Giger, 3 vols. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1994), 2.194.

[35] Blake, Vindiciae Foederis (London, 1658), 99. He adds: “The least difference in conditions, diversifies bargains and agreements on what part soever the difference is” (ibid). This point is so significant for Blake that he structures his subsequent discussion of the substantial differences between the covenants of works and grace around it (pp. 99–112).

[36] Ibid., 99.

[37] Note how Blake’s use of the phrase “one and the same” to describe the substantial unity of the old and new covenants parallels that of the Confession in 7:6.

[38] Turretin explicitly notes this point when he deals with both the Lutheran view (Institutes, 2.235) and the subservient covenant view of the Amyraldians (2:263). In spite of the broad points of agreement among Protestants on this point, Turretin still highlighted serious inconsistencies in the positions of these other views.

[39] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (1948; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2014), 145.

[40] In fact, the main burden of the book is to explain the superior priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ over the old (Heb 8:1).

[41] See Exod 34:6: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” The phrase, “grace and truth” (John 1:14, 17) is probably best taken as an allusion, if not a reference, to the phrase “steadfast love and faithfulness” in Exod 34:6.

[42] William Strong, The Worm That Dyeth Not (London, 1672), 105. Edward Reynolds speaks of the actions of a priest that were needed to offer a sacrifice, Christ’s priestly work, and a Christian’s active obedience in doing the whole law of God; perhaps with this raw material parallels could be drawn between a priest’s work and the active obedience of Christ, but these would be lines that a reader would have to supply, for Reynolds does not appear to draw them himself. Edward Reynolds, An Explication of the Hundreth and Tenth Psalme (London, 1632), 424–25.

[43] Perhaps the closest thing to an understanding of a priest’s work typifying Christ’s active obedience is a comment by William Gouge: “Priests stood in Christs roome, and by offering sacrifices were types of Christs offering himself a sacrifice for our sins.” The significance of the comment is that Christ’s offering himself is often seen as an example of his active obedience. But again, the connection is one that a reader has to make him or herself. William Gouge, A Learned and Very Useful Commentary on the Whole Epistle to the Hebrews (London, 1655), part 2, 447 (section 34).

[44] See John Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards, 155, 158; Ferry, “Works in the Mosaic covenant,” 100.

[45] These biblical texts are retained in the OPC’s revision of the Confession’s proof texts.

[46] Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2014), xxiv–xxv.

[47] Chad Van Dixhoorn, ed., The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), vol. 5, Doc. 52, 8 (hereafter MPWA).

[48] A “pedagogical purpose” is a “teaching purpose.”

[49] We also encourage readers to heed the “errata,” or lists of corrections that the printer asks the reader to make of the text. E.g., William Bridge asserts that that Mosaic administration is a covenant of works, but the errata corrects the text to say the contrary. Bridge, Christ and the Covenant (London, 1667), 64.

[50] Robert Baillie, Anabaptism the True Fountaine of Independency, Brownisme, Antinomy, Familisme, and the Most of the Other Errours, Which for the Time Doe Trouble the Church of England, Unsealed (London, 1647), 141–42.

[51] Ibid. For “mixed covenants” see the following chapter.

[52] Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, ed. T. Smith (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1863), 6.353.

[53] Ibid.

[54] An exception to this trend is provided by Mark A. Collingridge and Brett A. McNeill who think that in WCF 19.1–3, and in WCF. 7.2 and LC 93, we find evidence that the “Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechism use the ‘moral law’ and the ‘covenant of works’ synonymously.” But they add: “This is what is meant by the law was given to Adam as a covenant of works,” offering a definition of republication that seems to be one of administration rather than substance. See Mark A. Collingridge and Brett A. McNeill, “Republication: A Biblical, Confessional and Historical Defense,” Report to the Presbytery of the North West, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 23–24; see also 108–9.

[55] Because of what is written in SC 12, we can conclude that the tightly written summary in SC 15, Adam’s and Eve’s fall “from the estate wherein they were created,” refers to their state of innocence, and not to a covenantal arrangement as an aspect of creation.

[56] Law and covenant are always to be distinguished; before the fall they were actually different.

[57] There are other differences too. For example, some covenants, unlike laws, have federal heads.

[58] Gal 3:12, Rom 10:5, and Gen. 2:17 are cited for similar purposes in LC 20 and SC 12.

[59] This attention to one particular aspect of a biblical passage is not unusual. The assembly often cited a biblical text and had in view only one feature of that text relevant to the discussion at hand (e.g., WCF 3.2 citation of 1 Sam 23:11–12).

[60] Contrary to this position, it appears that Ferry does see bare citations of Lev 18:5, for example, applied to the prelapsarian covenant of works, as proof that divines saw the Mosaic economy as a covenant of works in some sense. See TLNF, 91, and his citations of Harris [sic.: actually 168] and Sedgwick, both of whom are discussing only the prelapsarian covenant of works and do not appear to have in view formal or substantial republication.

[61] Anthony Tuckney, Emmanuel College Library, Manuscript III.1.13, fo. 32r.

[62] Cornelius Burges, Cambridge University Library, Additional Manuscript 6164, 211; Thomas Gataker, God’s Eye on His Israel (London, 1645), 70n.; Thomas Goodwin, Aggravation of Sinne and Sinning against Knowledge (London, 1637), 9; Edward Reynolds, Three Treatises on the Vanity of the Creature (London, 1631), 131, 146, 226; Israel’s Prayer in Time of Trouble (London, 1649), 154; Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself (London, 1647), 29–30, 31 (with the same interpretation of Deut 27:26).

[63] Anthony Burgess, CXLV Expository Sermons (London, 1656), 122; The True Doctrine of Justification (London, 1651), 204; Edward Reynolds, An Explication of the Hundred and Tenth Psalme (London, 1632), 395, 441; Obadiah Sedgwick, Bowells of Tender Mercy (London, 1661), 596, 646.

[64] Comment by the Westminster assembly, in Van Dixhoorn, ed., MPWA, vol. 5, 327 (Doc. 122).

[65] Thomas Gataker, A Sparke toward the Kindling of Sorrow (London, 1621), 9 (with the same interpretation of Deut 27:26); Reynolds, An Explication of the Hundred and Tenth Psalme, 186n.; Henry Scudder, A Key of Heaven the Lord’s Prayer Opened (London, 1633), 492.

[66] WCF 6.6; Cornelius Burges, Cambridge University Library, Additional Manuscript 6164, 226; William Gouge, A Guide to Goe to God (London, 1626), 127, 136; Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself, 31 (with the same interpretation of Deut 27:26); William Strong, A Discourse of the Two Covenants (London, 1678), 22.

[67] Herbert Palmer, An Endeavour of Making the Principles of the Christian Religion, Namely the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lords Prayer, and the Sacraments, Plain and Easie (London, 1644), Q&A 60; Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself, 131 (with the same interpretation of Deut 27:26); Sedgwick, Bowells of Tender Mercy, 596, 646; Richard Vines, Gods Drawing, and Mans Coming to Christ (London, 1662), 121.

[68] William Gouge, An Exposition of Part of the Fift and Sixt Chapters of S. Paules Epistle to the Ephesians (London, 1630), 156; Gouge, The Progresse of Divine Providence (London, 1645), 27; Gouge, Hebrews, part 2, 172 (section 70); also citing Rom 10:5 and Deut 27:26.

[69] E.g., Sedgwick, Bowells of Tender Mercy, 105; Daniel Featley, A Second Parallel Together with a Writ of Error (London, 1626), 50.

[70] Gouge, Hebrews, part 2, 253 (section 42).

[71] E.g., Gouge, Hebrews, part 1, 176 (section 83).

[72] Gouge, Hebrews, part 3, 283 (section 43); Sedgwick, Bowels of Tender Mercy, 7

[73] William Twisse, A Treatise of Mr. Cottons Clearing Certain Doubts Concerning Predestination (London, 1646), 62.

[74] Jeremiah Burroughs, Christ Inviting Sinners to Come to Him for Rest (London, 1659), 36; Gouge, Hebrews, part 2, 253 (section 42); Strong, Discourse, 64, 78, 88; Vines, God’s Drawing, and Mans Coming to Christ, 184.

[75] Gouge, Hebrews, part 2, 260 (section 48).

[76] Reynolds, A Sermon Preached before the King (London, 1669), 21.

[77] Ferry writes that for Strong the Mosaic covenant is “independent of the covenant of grace” (TLNF, 97). But Strong argues that one’s description of the Mosaic economy depends on the purpose of the Mosaic covenant that one has in mind: it can be viewed either as part of the covenant of grace (for believers) or the covenant of works (for unbelievers). Ferry cites Discourse. Strong’s quotation is found on 90; for the fuller discussion see pp. 86–90.

[78] Ferry, TLNF, 93.

[79] Gouge, Hebrews, part 2, 259 (section 47).

[80] Gouge, Hebrews, part 3, 371 (section 129).

[81] Gouge, Hebrews, part 2, 252 (section 40); 259 (section 47).

[82] Samuel Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened (Edinburgh, 1655), Part I, 3; Sedgwick, Bowels of Tender Mercy, 7; or Gal 3:10 alone; Sedgwick, The Humbled Sinner (London, 1656), 59.

[83] Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened, 3–4; Goodwin, Works, vol. 6, 353.

[84] Francis Cheynell, An Account Given to the Parliament (London, 1647), 10.

[85] Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened, 200–201.

[86] Samuel Rutherford, Examen Arminianismi (Utrecht, 1668), 303, 452; Strong, Discourse, 2. The wonder of heaven is that there will be “no more curse”—“the law of works as threatning a curse, shall no more be there,” citing Gal 3:10–11, 13–14 and Deut 27:26; Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened (1655), 367.

[87] For example, Rutherford (citing Deut 4:13) sees “The law as a covenant of works (for so the Scripture calleth it)” and Gal 3:10 and other texts as evidence that it “is now so farre forth abrogated as that we are freed from the necessity of justification, by the law, and the curse of it.” But then these statements in turn must be set within his fuller discussion in his ‘A Modest Survey of the Secrets of Antinomianism’, in A Survey of the Spirituall Antichrist (London, 1648), 7; see pp. 5–7).

[88] Others have made a similar observation. See D. Patrick Ramsey, “In Defense of Moses: A Confessional Critique of Kline and Karlberg,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004), 394–95.

[89] There are many issues related to merit that we are not discussing, such as distinctions between broad and strict usage of the term, differences among merits of congruency, worth or condignity, etc. See, for example, Daniel Featley, Clavis Mystica (London, 1636), 329–34 (citing the uncensored printing); Thomas Gataker, Certaine Sermons, First Preached, and After Published (London, 1637), 269–94; Gouge, A Guide to Goe to God, 158; William Gouge, The Full Armour of God (London, 1627), 74–75; Sedgwick, The Bowels of Tender Mercy, 353–58; and esp. Turretin, Institutes, 2.710–24.

[90] Van Dixhoorn, ed., MPWA 2.48–107 (Sess. 47–52; Sept. 6–12, 1643).

[91] Strong, Discourse, 3.

[92] E.g., see Aaron Denlinger, Omnes in Adam ex Pacto Dei: Ambrogio Catarino’s Doctrine of Covenantal Solidarity and Its Influence on Post-Reformation Reformed Theologians (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010).

[93] Cambridge University Library, Additional Manuscript 6164, 36.

[94] In WCF 11.6 and 20.1 Old Testament saints are called “believers.”

[95] Patrick Ramsey notes that in LC 133 “The temporal blessing of long life and prosperity is promised to all those who keep the fifth commandment. That this promise is not restricted to Old Testament Israel is evident by the use of Eph 6:2–3 as a proof txt.” Ramsey, “In Defense of Moses,” 388. In the same vein Ramsey reflects relevant passages in LC 110 and 114 (see 388–89).

[96] Interestingly, Francis Turretin deals with the question of the substance of the Mosaic covenant in both ways under two different sections. The first deals with the relative question: “How the old and new testaments differ from each other: whether essentially (as to substance of doctrine) or accidentally (as to the manner of dispensation)” Turretin, Institutes, 2.233. The second deals with it absolutely: “Whether the Sinaitic legal covenant ... was a certain third covenant distinct in species from the covenant of nature and the covenant of grace” (2.262).

[97] Charles S. McCoy and J. Wayne Baker, eds., Fountainhead of Federalism: Heinrich Bullinger and Covenant Theology (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 120. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, LCC (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 2.429. Wolfgang Musculus, Common Places of Christian Religion (London, 1563), fol. 123. Peter Martyr Vermigli, The Common Places (1574), 2.583.

[98] Francis Roberts, Mysterium et Medulla Bibliorum: The Mysterie and Marrow of the Bible (London: George Calvert, 1657), 738.

[99] John Ball, Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (London, 1645), 93–94. Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae Legis (London, 1647), 232. Francis Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 738–39. Francis Turretin, Institutes, 262.

[100] It should be noted that not all writers choose to utilize this language or speak of a republication of the covenant of works in any sense.

[101] Granted, the heuristic usefulness of this taxonomy may have some shortcomings. Various advocates of each position may not always fit neatly within this analysis. As Roberts noted, some writers seem to contradict themselves, and attempt to combine elements of various positions. At this point it may be helpful to remind the church that the key issue is not the person who advocated the view, but the ideas and views themselves. Thus, a criticism of a particular formulation or particular statement should not be read as a criticism of a particular person or their view as a whole. Given our inherent sinful proclivity to moral and intellectual inconsistency, we should be able to embrace the gold and sift out the perceived dross among various views.

[102] For example, Anthony Burgess and Francis Roberts identify View 1 as finding advocates among Lutheran theologians (Burgess, Vindiciae Legis, 251; Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 740).

[103] Francis Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 739.

[104] Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae Legis, 251.

[105] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Volume 6 (Edinburgh: Johnstone & Hunter, 1855), 71–75. For Owen, while the substance of the covenant of grace is available to the people of God, the covenant itself is not inaugurated until the new covenant.

[106] Edward Fisher, Marrow of Modern Divinity, (London, 1646), 41. See also Fisher’s statement on 38 that the “Ten Commandements, as they were delivered to them on mount Sinai ... were delivered to them as the Covenant of works.”

[107] For further reading, Roberts and Turretin provide representative and detailed examples of how divines registered this criticism. Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 740–45, cf. 764–72. Turretin, Institutes, 2.234–37, 267–69.

[108] John Ball, Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 95–102. Francis Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 745.

[109] George Walker, The Manifold Wisedome of God (London, 1641), 127–54.

[110] Ibid., 128.

[111] Ibid., 133.

[112] To take just one example, William Ames describes one difference between the Old and New Testaments in terms of the greater “clarity and freedom” characteristic of the latter. Specifically, he speaks of the “government by law, or mixing of the covenant of workes, which did hold the ancient people in a certain bondage” (William Ames, The Marrow of Sacred Divinity [London: 1639], 176). Earlier he specified that this “mixing” was present only on the administrative level: “It is the New Testament, in respect of that which was from the time of Moses, and in respect of the promise made to the Fathers: not in respect of the essence, but in respect of the manner; because in them in respect of the manner of administering, there was some representation of the Covenant of works, from which this Testament doth essentially differ; and so seeing there did not appeare an integrall difference, of the New Covenant from the Old, but in that administration which is most properly called the New Covenant and Testament” (p. 175). In other words, the Old Testament remains in substance or essence a covenant of grace. The covenant of works is only “mixed” in on the administrative level or “manner of administering.”

[113] George Walker, Manifolde Wisedome of God, 141, 143.

[114] Ibid., 144.

[115] Ibid., 128, 133.

[116] Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae Legis, 213.

[117] Thomas Blake, Vindiciae Foederis, 212–13.

[118] Francis Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 746, makes a similar argument against the mixed covenant view: “1.In this twofold Proposal of the Law fore-mentioned, the one, with rigour, the other with moderation, This Opinion supposeth two distincst and opposite kinds of Covenants to be propounded; viz.A Covenant of Works,in the former;A Covenant of Grace,in the latter.But this cannot be admitted. For ... theCovenant of Worksand theCovenant of Faith,orof Graceare so essentially opposite and inconsistent one with another, that they cannot be comprized in one and the same Sinai-administration.For as the Apostle in another case said of GodsElection,so in this case we may say Gods Covenant-administration;If by Grace, then it is no more of Works: otherwise Grace is no more Grace. But if it be of Works, then it is no more Grace; otherwise work is no more work.” See also the statement of Patrick Gillespie: “The Scripture plainly asserteth an impossibility of mixing the nature of Works and Faith, as con-causes, or concurring conditions of righteousness and life; so that it cannot be a Covenant that stands partly of Works, and partly of Faith. Rom. 4.4, 5 ... 11.6” (Ark of the Testament Opened [London, 1661], 156).

[119] According to John Cameron, the first explicit proponent of the three-covenant model outlined above, all covenants can be divided into two basic types: absolute or conditional. Absolute covenants (such as the covenant with Noah and God’s covenant with the elect) have no stipulations annexed to them. Conditional covenants (such as covenant of works, the subservient covenant, and the covenant of grace) do have a stipulation annexed: perfect obedience to the moral law in the covenant nature, obedience to the moral, ceremonial and judicial law in the subservient covenant, and faith in Christ in the covenant of grace. See: Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedome (London, 1656), 353–56.

[120] This is Bolton’s translation of John Cameron’s definition of the subservient covenant as found in his The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, 400–401.

[121] Ibid., 146.

[122] Thomas Case, The Morning Exercise Methodized (London, 1660), 233–60. Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 6, The Work of the Holy Ghost in Our Salvation (Edinburgh, 1863), 353.

[123] “ThatThe Covenant of Nature, The Covenant of Grace, and the Subservient Covenant or old Covenant, are made three distinct sorts or Kinds of Covenant essentially and specisicaly different one from another: and yet, The Covenant of Nature before theall, and the Covenant subservient atMount Sinai,are both of them made... Covenant of Works, having one and the same stipulation in respect of the Moral Law,Do this and live. The Division of aGenusinto itsSpecies,must be into members specisicallydistinctand opposite but these areCo-incident” (Francis Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 751).

[124] Ibid.

[125] Patrick Gillespie, Ark of the Testament Opened, 153.

[126] Ibid., 156.

[127] Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedome, 382–84. Note again how he pointed to the essential similarity of the covenant of works and subservient covenant in that in both “the stipulation is the same, as touching the morall law” (Ibid., 382).

[128] Ibid., 146.

[129] John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 92–143. Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae Legis, 231–37. Samuel Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened, 57–65. Thomas Blake, Vindiciae Foederis, 202–30. Obadiah Sedgwick, The Bowels of Tender Mercy, 172–81. Francis Turretin, Institutes, 2. 262–69.

[130] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 6:74–76. Samuel Bolton, The True Boundes of Christian Freedome, 127–63.

[131] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 6:76.

[132] Martin Chemnitz, Loci Communes, trans. J. A. O. Preus (St. Louis: Concordia, 1989), 662.

[133] Ibid.

[134] Francis Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 746–79. Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae Legis, 233–37. Thomas Blake, Vindiciae Foederis, 215–19.

[135] Patrick Gillespie, Ark of the Testament Opened, 154–55.

[136] Obadiah Sedgwick, Bowels of Tender Mercy, (London, 1661), 173.

[137] John Maynard,The Law of God Ratified by the Gospel of Christ (London, 1674), 263–64. Cf. the comments of Maynard’s fellow assembly member Herbert Palmer, who applies these distinctions to Adam and Israel, respectively: “Then ye would distinguish betwixt this Law as given to Adam, and as given to Israel: for as given to him it was a Covenant of Works, but as given to them it’s a Covenant of Grace, and so from us now it calls for Gospel-duties, as Faith in Christ, 1 Tim. 1. 5. Repentance, Hope in God, &c. and although it call for legal duties, yet in a Gospel manner” (Herbert Palmer, The Law Unsealed: An Exposition of the Ten Commandments, [Glasgow:1676], 10).

[138] William Bridge, The Works of the Rev. William Bridge, Vol. III (London, 1845), 48.

[139] Herman Witsius, Conciliatory Or Irenical Animadversions (Glasgow,1807), 297.

[140] Francis Turretin, Institutes, 2:263.

[141] Obadiah Sedgwick, The Bowels of Tender Mercy, 173.

[142] Turretin, Institutes, 2:267–68.

[143] It is fairly clear that although the divines do seem to have Tobias Crisp’s unique position in view, it is also the case that divines of the period understood the Confession to reject other positions that made the Mosaic covenant to differ in substance from the covenant of grace. David Dickson’s analysis of the chapter 7 may be helpful here. He argues that the affirmations in WCF 7 constitute a rejection of the Socinian view of the Mosaic covenant as differing in substance from the new covenant: “ARE there two Covenants of Grace, differing in substance; or but one and the same under various dispensations?...Well then, do not the Socinians err; who maintain; a Substantial; and not an Accidental difference between the old Covenant and the new?” David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error (1684), 54. The principle undergirding the Confession’s rejection of Crisp’s view is applicable to other positions which also make a substantial and not merely an accidental difference between the Mosaic covenant and the new. Thus, any view that makes the Mosaic covenant differ in substance from the covenant of grace compromises this principle, and thus introduces an element that is inconsistent with the standards’ formulations.

[144] This reading of the standards is consistent with the way it was interpreted by at least one person within the immediate historical horizon of its reception in Britain, and in the more remote horizons of American Presbyterianism. For example, Thomas Vincent addresses the question of the nature of the Mosaic covenant in his exposition of the assembly’s Shorter Catechism. He addresses the question of whether the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works or a covenant of grace in these words: “The covenant which God made with the children of Israel, was not a covenant of works, but the same covenant of grace, as to the substance of it, which is made known in the Gospel.” Thomas Vincent, An Explicatory Catechism (1777), 72. John Murray, writing during the formative years of the OPC, articulated the Confession’s viewpoint in a similar fashion. Murray contrasted the idea that in the Mosaic covenant “radically opposite, mutually exclusive destructive and destructive governing principles prevail” with the teaching of our standards. The context indicates that his immediate concern lies in the construction of classic dispensationalism, but also has relevance for evaluating versions of substantial republication. His argument is forceful: “The teaching of our Presbyterian standards stands to this in the sharpest antithesis. The immediate question reduces itself to the construction the Confession of Faith places upon the Mosaic dispensation, and upon its relation to the Christian dispensation. Does the Confession regard the Mosaic dispensation as one of law based upon the covenant of works, and standing as regards its governing principle in flat antithesis to grace and to the covenant of grace upon which grace is based? The answer is simple: it is an emphatic no” (John Murray, “The Reformed Faith and its Modern Substitutes Part VI: Modern Dispensationalism,” The Presbyterian Guardian, May 18, 1936, 77). As this article was written in the formative years of our denomination, it is at least a partial window into the animus of our OPC fathers in how they understood our Confession on this issue.

[145] Clearly, the original covenant of works is still in force in regard to the penalty it has imposed upon sinful man, from which believers are delivered through the blood of Christ.

[146] Bolton, True Boundes, 134. Note especially his comment on pp. 133–34: “It could never suit with God’s heart to sinners to give a covenant of works after the fall; because man could doe nothing, hee was dead &tc. Besides, it was contrary to the nature of a covenant, man was impotent, and could not stand a party in covenant with God.”

[147] Ibid., 134–35.

[148] Ibid., 135.

[149] In keeping with this, a standard argument in favor of viewing the Sinai covenant as in substance a covenant of grace was based on the fact that the Sinai covenant was often renewed with Israel. Ball, Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 107.

[150] Herman Witsius, Economy of the Covenants (New York, 1804), 1.199.

[151] Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 57.

[152] As noted later, these and other weaknesses of this first view are relevant in assessing other versions of substantial republication, although we will not repeat these arguments under each successive heading.

[153] Sedgwick, Bowels of Tender Mercy, 173.

[154] Ibid., 175.

[155] Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 744. Later Roberts reiterates the same point, arguing that the idea of republication compromises his “orderliness” in redemptive history, “obscure[ing] the Lords Dispensations which are clear, and disorders then that are orderly, as if the Lord did do, and undo, went backward and forward, in his Foederal administrations.”

[156] Peter Bulkeley, The Gospel Covenant (London, 1646), 67.

[157] Adam and Eve sinfully partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in violation of God’s specific prohibition (Gen 2:17). It is unlikely that they partook of the tree of life, as this tree sacramentally symbolized eternal life in a confirmed state from which they could not fall (Gen 3:22).

[158] This point is articulated well by Turretin (among others). Referencing two versions of substantial republication (views 1 and 3 in our taxonomy), he writes: “The two sacraments of the covenant of grace already made with the fathers were conjoined to the Sinaitic covenant (to wit, circumcision and the Passover, which prevailed under that dispensation until Christ and were added as seals to confirm it, Jn. 7:22, 23; Dt. 16:1, 2). This could not have been done if it had been a third new covenant, distinct in entire species from the covenant of grace. For it is absurd to add the sacraments of the covenant of grace to a certain different covenant, whether it be called one of works or subservient” (Turretin, Institutes, 2.266).

[159] See Bulkeley, Gospel Covenant, 57–61, for a representative discussion of this point.

[160] Roberts makes this point well with reference to the mixed covenant view: “TheCovenant of Worksand theCovenant of Faith,orof Graceare so essentially opposite and inconsistent one with another, that they cannot be comprized in one and the sameSinai-administration.For as the Apostle in another case said of GodsElection,so in this case we may say Gods Covenant-administration; If by Grace, then it is no more of Works: otherwise Grace is no more Grace. But if it be of Works, then it is no more Grace; otherwise work is no more work” (Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 746).

[161] Thomas Blake, referring to both views 1 and 2 in our taxonomy, also makes this point forcefully: “This is plaine, God doth not at once, with the same people enter covenant upon so opposite termes. These are asusata, either of them destructive to the other, We may argue concerning the covenant, as the Apostle doth concerning election, If by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace; but if it be of works, then it is no more grace, otherwise work is no more work” (Blake, Vindiciae Foederis, 212–13). Bolton (who affirms the subservient covenant position) addresses the logic of this point in further detail. He refers to the idea of a “middle covenant” which consists “partly of workes, and partly of grace.” Such a covenant he “utterly den[ies].” According to him “no such covenant can ever be made with man fallen” since “Grace can no way be called grace, if not every way Grace” (Bolton, True Boundes, 135–36). For if “if there were any thing of mans bringing, which were not Gods bestowing, though it were never so small, it would overturn the nature of Grace, and make that of workes which is of Grace (Ibid.).

[162] Again, Bolton’s logic on this point is significant: “If there were any thing of mans bringing, which were not Gods bestowing, though it were never so small, it would overturn the nature of Grace, and make that of workes which is of Grace. If a man should aske but a penny of us, to the purchase of a Kingdome, though he should give us the rest, yet would that penny hinder it from being a meere gift and grace” (Bolton, True Boundes, 136).

[163] It is important to note that the subservient covenant view, as it was proposed by Cameron, Amyraut, and some of those who adopted it (like Bolton), functions as part of a threefold schematization of covenant history along the lines of three substantially distinct covenants (the covenant of nature, the subservient covenant, and the covenant of grace). In this paradigm, the covenant of nature only promises a blessed life in Canaan, and not eternal life in heaven. This would be a point of increasing contention in the tradition, eventually resulting in the specific rejection of Cameron and Amyraut’s view in Geneva in the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675), together with the explicit affirmation of the promise of eternal life in heaven in the covenant of works with Adam (see Canons XIII–IX).

[164] This point is only reinforced when one considers that the covenant of works in Eden also had its ceremonies/sacraments (i.e., the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil).

[165] In this respect, it is helpful to remind the reader of what we noted above, namely, that Samuel Bolton clearly distinguishes his subservient covenant view from the majority position (positively reflected in our standards). Bolton viewed his subservient covenant position as categorically distinct from view 4 (discussed below).

[166] Here we have in view the statements of Samuel Bolton, who argued that the subservient covenant position was “the Key to the Gospel.” Bolton, True Boundes, 351. For those who held this position, a statement of the Christian gospel that lacked a robust affirmation of this subservient covenant would seem to be a door that lacked a key.

[167] Turretin, Institutes, 2.264. See also the comment of Patrick Gillespie on the subservient covenant position: “To put the matter beyond all doubt, the Scripture doth expresly exclude this third Species of a subservient covenant, by distinguishing Gods covenants with man in their kinds, into two only in number, and these for their nature of bondage and of freedom, of Works and Grace.” Gillespie, The Ark of the Testament Opened, 156–57.

[168] Again, Bolton is perhaps an example of this, as he argues at length against viewing the Sinai covenant as a covenant of works without adequately explaining how his position would not be subject to many of the same criticisms. Bolton, True Boundes, 130–34.

[169] Cameron put it this way: “The Sacraments, Sacrifices, and Ceremonies of the Old Testament did set forth Christ, and the Benefits by Christ; not primarily, but secondarily ... but the Sacraments of the New Covenant do shew forth Christ primarily, and that clearly” (as translated by Samuel Bolton in his True Boundes, 399). Thus circumcision primarily signified the separation between the seed of Abraham and the rest of the nations and sealed to them the earthly promise. The Passover primarily signified the passing over of the destroying Angel. The sacrifices and washings primarily represented only a carnal holiness. Only secondarily did these benefits signify Christ.

[170] Bolton, True Boundes, 393.

[171] The statements of the Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Day 44) are helpful here. Although no one can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly, God still wants them preached pointedly “so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.”

[172] M. G. Kline, By Oath Consigned: A Reinterpretation of the Covenantal Signs of Circumcision and Baptism (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1998), 23.

[173] Ibid., 22–23 (italics added).

[174] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 352.

[175] Ibid.

[176] Meredith G. Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 96–97.

[177] Ibid., 133, 154.

[178] Ibid., 97.

[179] Ibid.

[180] Kline, By Oath Consigned, 22–23.

[181] Ibid., 24.

[182] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 109.

[183] Ibid., 110.

[184] Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon, 96.

[185] Ibid., 97.

[186] Ibid.

[187] Ibid.

[188] Kline, By Oath Consigned, 16.

[189] Ibid., 23–24.

[190] Ibid., 24.

[191] Ibid.

[192] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 5.

[193] Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon, 96.

[194] Ibid.

[195] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 318.

[196] Ibid., 320.

[197] Norman Shepherd, Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illumines Salvation and Evangelism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 15–19. Shepherd contemplates Abraham’s faith and obedience only in terms of the ordo salutis and does not consider the typological character of Abraham’s obedience relative to his posterity (cf. Gen 22:16–18). Kline’s observations regarding the integration of Abraham’s Spirit-wrought obedience of faith (ordo salutis) and his unique significance as a type of Christ (historia salutis) in his later works (i.e., Kingdom Prologue and God, Heaven and Har Magedon) are designed to offer a corrective on Shepherd’s one dimensional, ordo salutis-only reading of the import of Abraham’s obedience. It is beyond the purview of this essay to develop this observation, but it is important to recognize that such a “flat” reading of Abraham certainly provides an impetus for Kline’s probing of Abraham’s typological significance.

[198] For an accessible summary of Bahnsen’s more mature views, consult By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), 344–47. Bahnsen’s concern is that the civil law of theocratic Israel should supply the abiding norm that regulates penology for every state in every age. This deontological concern pushes him to miss the unique and unrepeatable character of Canaan as an intrusion in typical categories of the holiness of the age to come, as well as Israel’s obedience to the Mosaic covenant as the terms of the maintaining the typal kingdom. Hence, Bahnsen, in a manner parallel to Shepherd, flattens out typological features resident within the theocracy.

[199] Kingdom Prologue, 157.

[200] Ibid., 85.

[201] Ibid., 49.

[202] Ibid., 327.

[203] Ibid., 107.

[204] Ibid.

[205] Ibid.

[206] Kline, By Oath Consigned, 36.

[207] Ibid.

[208] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 115.

[209] Ibid., 369 (italics added).

[210] Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon, 226 (italics added).

[211] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 158.

[212] Ibid., 20 (italics added).

[213] Kline, Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 65.

[214] See more on the typological significance of circumcision as applied to national Israel below.

[215] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 322.

[216] Ibid., 118 (italics added).

[217] This chapter will not address Kline’s treatment of other figures who offer “meritorious obedience” similar to Abraham, such as Noah, due in large part to the narrow focus on the precise relationship between Abraham and national Israel.

[218] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 366.

[219] Ibid., 320.

[220] Ibid., 323.

[221] Ibid., 324.

[222] Ibid.

[223] Ibid.

[224] Ibid., 324–25.

[225] Ibid., 325.

[226] Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon, 102.

[227] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 326.

[228] Ibid., 325.

[229] Kline, Treaty of the Great King, 124–25.

[230] It is important to note that Christ’s merit, given his divine-human person as the Mediator of the covenant of grace, both fulfills the requirements and removes the penalty of the covenant of works, thereby displaying proper, ex pacto merit in the redemption of his people (in contrast to Adam who would have offered improper ex pacto merit as a sinless creature).

[231] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 20.

[232] Ibid., 322 (italics added).

[233] Meredith G. Kline, “Oath and Ordeal Signs,” WTJ 28 (1965–1966): 13, 15.

[234] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 318.

[235] Kline, “Oath and Ordeal Signs,” 20–21.

[236] Ibid. (italics added).

[237] Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon, 97.

[238] Ibid., 100.

[239] Kline, By Oath Consigned, 42–43.

[240] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 322 (italics added).

[241] John Murray, The Covenant of Grace: A Biblico-Theological Study (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1988), 10.

[242] Ibid.

[243] Ibid.

[244] Ibid.

[245] Ibid.

[246] Ibid., 11.

[247] Ibid.

[248] Ibid.

[249] Ibid., 12.

[250] Ibid.

[251] Ibid., 13.

[252] Ibid.

[253] Ibid.

[254] Ibid.

[255] Ibid.

[256] Ibid.

[257] We will expound Vos’s Biblical Theology and not focus on his Reformed Dogmatics, due in large part to the fact that Kline’s own theological formulations depend on his interaction with and appropriation of Vos’s Biblical Theology. We will note the similarity in concept and phraseology between Vos and Kline, specifically highlighting the way that Kline develops features in Vos’s understanding of Israel within the conceptual framework of intrusion and redemptive typology at the national level.

[258] Vos, Biblical Theology, 127 (some italics added).

[259] Ibid., 126–27.

[260] Ibid., 127.

[261] Ibid., 127–28 (italics added).

[262] Ibid.

[263] For one interpretation that sees the “subservient covenant” position as a precursor to Kline, consult Lee Irons, “The Subservient Covenant: A 17th Century Precursor of Meredith Kline’s View of the Mosaic Covenant” (unpublished paper), http://www.upper-register.com/papers/subservient_cov.pdf (accessed February 18, 2016).

[264] See above for our analysis of the Confession of Faith on the subject of “merit.”

[265] See the above analysis of the Confession of Faith on merit.

[266] “The promises of it [the moral law] ... show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works” (WCF 19.6). “We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God...and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment” (WCF 16.5). These principles are comprehensively applied to fallen man such that he cannot merit even the temporal blessings of this life (LC 193).

[267] For example, Lee Irons has argued that Christ’s obedience, considered in itself, would not have been good or meritorious: “Christ’s obedience and sufferings in the flesh, if considered absolutely and in themselves, would not have been good, or meritorious, nor would they have brought glory to God. Of what possible intrinsic value would it be to cause an innocent person to suffer the penal sanction and curse of the law? However, when considered not abstractly but covenantally, that is, when considered in the context of the eternal covenant of redemption, the obedience of Christ has a particular purpose in terms of that covenant, and so in light of that covenantal purpose, the obedience of Christ is good and meritorious and brings glory to God.” Lee Irons, “What Is Merit: Part 6,” http://www.upper-register.com/blog/?p=173 (accessed July 3, 2015). Suffice it to say that this is a significantly different assessment of the inherent goodness and meritorious character of Christ’s obedience than that found in our standards and the broader Reformed tradition.

[268] See Canons of Dordt, Head 2, Articles 3–4.

[269] The reader should note that this idea is distinct from the idea of “declarative” republication, wherein the content of the covenant of works is declared but not made with Israel at Mt. Sinai.

[270] Witsius, Economy, 199

[271] Ibid. As we have noted elsewhere in this report, Witsius does affirm a form of “declarative republication” wherein the covenant of works is restated at Sinai, but not actually renewed with the people of Israel.

[272] Witsius, Economy, 880.

[273] Peter Bulkeley also highlights the unchangeable character of the covenant of works. He argues that the “covenant of works is an unchangeable covenant.” At present, no man can attain life by this covenant, “not because the covenant is changed, but because we are changed” due to inherited sinfulness. It is precisely because of the “unchangeableness and stability of this covenant” that the world stands condemned as sinful and ungodly, and that the Son of God must fulfill it in our stead. See Peter Bulkeley, The Gospel Covenant, 56.

[274] In context, this question and answer addresses the outward and ordinary means of the New Testament (outlined in fuller detail in WCF 7.6). It is also a fitting description of the administration of the covenant of grace in the old covenant. Note especially WCF 8.6 which speaks of the “benefits” of redemption being “communicated unto the elect ... in and by” the elements of that outward administration.

[275] This seems to be the distinctive typological construction of the subservient covenant position, discussed above.

[276] Again, note the language of redemption being “communicated” “in and by” the types of the old covenant to the elect in Israel (WCF 8.6).

[277] Again, the idea that the Mosaic covenant contains merely a renewed proclamation of the broken covenant of works with Adam is not in view here, as this is a taxonomically distinct position—one that is commonplace in Reformed theology.

[278] Francis Roberts, Mysterie and Marrow, 789: “Hence, The many Misapprehensions of this Sinai-Administration may justly be condemned and confuted, that have occasioned so many mistakes and errours about this Sinai-Law: especially that grand misapprehension, That the Sinai-Covenant was a Covenant of works, not of Faith and Grace. As ... 2. Of the Antinomians, who totally condemn and disallow the use of the Moral Law to Christians as given on Mount Sinai, and as in the hand of Moses. They not considering that it was given on Mount Sinai as a pure Evangelical Covenant of Faith: and therefore the substance of it concerns Christians, as well as Iews.”

[279] Note especially the language of WCF 19.6, which speaks of the fact that the promises of the law show believers “what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works” (italics added).

[280] Especially noteworthy here is the temporal blessing annexed to the fifth commandment (i.e. long life in the land). If the distinctive characteristic of the “Torah covenant of works” is a principle of merit governing retention of the land, it seems difficult to remove this principle from the Decalogue as delivered by Moses. The “merit principle” is thus embedded in the Ten Commandments.

[281] C. Van Dixhoorn, God’s Ambassadors: The Westminster Assembly and the Reform of the English Pulpit, 1643–1653 (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, forthcoming 2016), chs. 4 and 6.

[282] See “Reforming Our Expectations” (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2014), 13.