Results tagged “Merit” from Reformation21 Blog

I've enjoyed the recent interaction between Mark Jones and Rick Phillips on the question of whether divine grace informed the covenant of works. I've also appreciated the generally cordial spirit of their interaction.

As both Mark and Rick know (and have reminded us), confessional theological traditions, by their very nature, permit a significant degree of difference on relatively important (or at least intriguing) issues. Confessional traditions, for those unfamiliar with such terminology, are those which look to one or several historic confessions of faith (the Westminster Confession, the Gallic Confession, the Augsburg Confession, etc.) to establish boundaries for appropriate theological expression. The original authors of such confessions -- for example, the Westminster Divines -- disagreed among themselves about quite a few things (See Haykin and Jones's Drawn into Controversie). Thus they purposefully produced statements of faith which were simultaneously inclusive of their divergent views and exclusive of views which, to their thinking, were sinister enough to require a severing of Christian fellowship. Present-day disagreement which occurs within the boundaries created by some common, historic Confession of Faith (such as the WCF) is, then, intramural (intra = within; muri = walls) and fraternal (fratres= brothers) by definition. That realization can and should inform the tone of such disagreement.

With that in view, I'd like raise a question or two in response to Mark and Rick's respective posts. I hope my questions will reflect the fraternal tone I've just advocated. I hope, more importantly, that they might serve to clarify where the boundaries actually lay -- for those who subscribe to the WCF -- for what's permissible and appropriate to say about divine grace and human merit vis-à-vis the covenant of works.

On Grace in the Covenant of Works

Regarding, first, the issue of grace in the covenant of works: I wonder if Mark hasn't overstated his case to some degree? Mark's done a masterful job of demonstrating that numerous seventeenth-century Reformed divines recognized the covenant of works as an essentially gracious arrangement, and/or acknowledged Adam's obedience, as long as such lasted in the Garden, as a product, ultimately, of divine grace. It would, I think, be irresponsible, in light of Marks' argument, to read the WCF as if it denied any present-day Reformed believer the freedom to refer to the covenant of works as a gracious relationship in which Adam's "perfect and perpetual obedience" might have secured (eternal) "life" for "Adam and... his posterity."

At times, however, Mark almost seems to suggest that recognition of grace in the covenant of works was unanimous among early modern Reformed thinkers, and -- consequently -- that the WCF's reference to every divine covenant per se being an instance of "voluntary condescension on God's part" was tantamount to naming the covenant of works as gracious in kind. So, for example, Mark advises those who "wish to maintain general agreement with the Reformed orthodox of the seventeenth century" to "be comfortable with (and perhaps insist upon) pre-Fall grace."

I'd like to point out, on this score, that there were early modern Reformed thinkers who very explicitly denied divine grace a presence or role in the pre-Fall covenant of works. Robert Rollock, the first principle of Edinburgh University and a pivotal figure in the history of Reformed covenant thought, comes to mind. In Rollock's 1596 catechism on the divine covenants he firmly insisted that those "works" which God required from Adam in the pre-Fall covenant were products of Adam's holy and upright nature, and so of his innate powers, not "works proceeding from grace." This, I take it, would distinguish Rollock from Ames. In his Treatise of Effectual Calling a year later, Rollock denied that divine grace served as the fundamentum -- the foundation or basis -- of the covenant of works, and named Adam's holy and upright nature and friendship with God as the proper foundation of said covenant. This, I take it, would distinguish Rollock from the multitude of writers Mark quotes who insisted on recognizing every covenant between God and man as an instance of divine grace per se. Rollock's analysis of the covenant of works is consistent with his own definition of "divine covenants" per se, a definition which omits any mention of grace.

It may be that Rollock was entirely alone in his refusal to place grace in the Garden of Eden. But I doubt it. Rollock was, by all accounts, a force to be reckoned with in the development of Reformed covenant theology, and I suspect that one finds his views on this matter reflected to some extent at least among his students and theological heirs. I suspect, moreover, that when the Westminster Divines spoke of "voluntary [divine] condescension" as the basis for each and every covenant, they were, with a view towards Rollock's opinion if not the man himself, more intentional in their avoidance of the term "grace" then Mark contends. The very carefully crafted wording of WCF 7 permits one to acknowledge grace -- not redemptive grace, but grace in some more general sense -- as foundational to the covenant of works as such. It certainly doesn't require anyone to acknowledge the covenant of works as a divinely established gracious relationship.

On Merit in the Covenant of Works

On the issue of merit in the covenant of works: I wonder if Rick hasn't misread the sources to some extent when he claims that "the [Westminster] confession restrict[s] merit to the person and work of Christ alone," and denies such (that is, merit) to anyone else, Adam included. There's no question that our Confession denies the possibility of fallen sinners meriting forgiveness and eschatological life (16.5), but, so far as I can see, the WCF never explicitly comments upon the issue of whether Adam's obedience could or would have been meritorious or not. 

Such lack of commentary on the issue of pre-Fall merit follows, I'd wager, from the diversity of opinions one actually encounters among seventeenth-century Reformed writers on this question. Rollock, whom I referenced above, specifically denied that Adam's obedience would have had the nature -- the ratio -- of merit because his work was owed to God in light of God's preceding goodness (not grace) to him. Others, however, insisted that Adam's obedience would have been meritorious, even if they labored to define "merit" in some way contrary to medieval notions of condign and congruent merit.

So, for instance, Johannes Braun wrote in his De doctrina foederum: "If Adam had remained upright and done everything which God required of him, he would indeed have merited his reward, but not condignly, as if either his own person or his works were equal in value to the reward. For no creature, no matter how perfect, can merit anything from God in that sense. [...] Rather he would have merited ex pacto, according to the stipulation of the covenant -- that is, according to God's good pleasure." One finds the same doctrine of pre-Fall merit in Francis Turretin, Benedict Pictet, and -- I presume -- in others of the period. 

I would contend, then, that diversity on the question of pre-Fall merit existed just as much as it did on the issue of pre-Fall grace. Thus, moreover, I would contend that persons affirming the meritorious nature of Adam's works in the pre-Fall covenant are no more "out of bounds" (as it were) than persons affirming/denying the presence of grace in the Garden.


I doubt that current debates over covenant theology can be effectively arbitrated by appeals to our Reformed "tradition," our historic confessions, or any singular Confession (say, Westminster). There's considerable diversity in our tradition (even with regard to something as specific as the covenant of works) and our historic confessions reflect that diversity by refusing to take sides on intramural squabbles. Contemporary debates over aspects of Reformed covenant theology are important and necessary, but they must be waged primarily on the fields of exegesis, biblical theology, and systematics. What our shared Confession of Faith can do in these debates is remind us of the unity we share despite our lack of complete uniformity in doctrine, a point which should in turn inform the tenor of our conversations.

Whatever parties exist on questions of grace and merit in the covenant of works, all who genuinely ascribe to the WCF affirm "the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ," and base their hope for eternal reward entirely upon the same. That truth bears repeating in the midst of (fraternal) discord. I'm reminded of Calvin's words to Bullinger in the 1540's regarding their differences on the Lord's Supper: "In whatever way I may hold the firm persuasion of a greater communication of Christ in the sacraments than you express in words, we shall not on that account cease to hold the same Christ and to be one in him. Some day, perhaps, it will be given us to unite in fuller harmony of doctrine."

Shamelessly stealing Aaron's "Calvin contra . . ." title form while trying to slip into Mark's stream of interest in merit, I thought this might be a good time to indulge a little excursion in Reformed diversity by noting Calvin's peculiar position on the source of Christ's merit.

At least since Anselm the merit of Christ's satisfaction on our behalf has been linked to the infinite worth of the divine person accomplishing that work. As the eleventh century closed, the good Archbishop of Canterbury, while in exile, famously asked Why the God-man (Cur Deus Homo)? To answer, he argued that only God could satisfy what humanity owed, and strongly suggested a line of argument later elaborated by Thomas Aquinas (among others), who grounded the merit of Christ in the person of the Son. The idea is probably familiar to most readers: the great worth of Christ's work comes from the fact that he is the infinitely worthy Son of God who freely assumed a fully human nature in order to accomplish our redemption.

Obviously, significant differences exist between Medieval and later Reformed thinkers on the merit of Christ. Yet, on the source of Christ's merit, the bulk of the Reformed tradition, it seems, follows Thomas. Richard Muller makes this very point in his entry on meritum Christi in his Dictionary:

The argument most often found among the Protestant scholastics, both Lutheran and Reformed, received its clearest medieval formulation in the thought of Thomas Aquinas. The source of the meritum Christi is the persona Christi who performs the work of satisfaction. . . . Since the person is the divine Word, the infinite Second Person of the Trinity, the work performed by that person, even though accomplished through the instrumentality of his human nature, must be infinite.

This is exactly the argument we find in that titan of continental Reformed scholastics, Francis Turretin. Maintaining that the perfection of Christ's satisfaction excludes any possibility of a human contribution in this life or need for purgatory in the next (contra "the Romanists"), he contends that "the perfection of this satisfaction" is due,

First, [to] the dignity of the person satisfying; this was not only holy and most pure, but also truly divine. . . . We cannot doubt that this satisfaction which he has made is one of infinite value and efficacy and therefore of such fulness and all-sufficiency that nothing can be added to it. For although his human nature (which was the instrument in the obedience and sufferings) was finite, yet the satisfaction itself does not cease to be infinite (relative to the person, which is here the efficient cause and to which they ought to be attributed) (Elenctic Theology, Q14.12.7).

Here, Turretin follows Thomas, reasoning that the infinite merit of Christ's satisfaction is due to the divine person who rendered that satisfaction on our behalf.

Calvin, however, develops a different line--one that makes no appeal to the infinite worth of the divine person but looks instead to the decretive will of God. We find this in his discussion of how we can correctly say that Christ has merited grace and salvation for us. Here he argues that,

When we treat of the merit of Christ, we do not place the beginning in him, but we ascend to the ordination of God as the primary cause, because of his mere good pleasure he appointed a Mediator to purchase salvation for us (Institutes, 2.17.1).

Instead of an appeal to the divine person of the Word incarnate who was that mediator, Calvin appeals to the arrangement decreed by God out "of his mere good pleasure." The argument is important to Calvin, in context, because it demonstrates, he believes, that the merit of Christ is not opposed to the mercy of God. On the contrary, it was God's mercy to appoint a mediator and arrange the state of affairs by which that mediator could merit salvation for us. In this way, he argues, the merit of Christ is always "in subordination to" the "mere mercy of God" (2.17.1).

Calvin goes so far as to argue that "Christ could not merit anything save by the good pleasure of God," meaning that "the merit of Christ depends entirely on the grace of God (which provided this mode of salvation for us)" (2.17.1).

Curiously, Calvin's argument has a decidedly Scotist ring to it. In typical Duns-ian fashion, the Scot developed a voluntaristic alternative to Thomas's appeal to the divine person, arguing that since Christ's work was accomplished by the Son as a man it necessarily has a finite value. As such, the sufficiency of Christ's work--its infinite merit--is grounded in God's counterfactual acceptance of his work as a full satisfaction for sin.

That, to be clear, is not Calvin's argument. Although both Scotus and Calvin agree that the will of God is the source of Christ's merit, Calvin argues that Christ's work has infinite merit on the basis of God's decree. The difference may seem subtle but is significant: Scotus's argument from the divine will to accept Christ's work as counterfactually sufficient is later developed by Hugo Grotius into his moral governmental theory of the atonement. Calvin's view precludes such development just as completely as Thomas's before him or Turretin's after him, but on a surprisingly different premise.

Can Humans Merit Before God? (2 of 2)

Part 1 here.

Westminster Seminary California Professor, David VanDrunen, critiques Norman Shepherd for rejecting Adamic merit:

"It is not difficult to see how such a view, if taken seriously, makes belief in Christ's active, imputed obedience impossible. If image bearers do not merit anything before God, then the true image bearer, Christ, did not merit anything before God, and his perfect obedience can hardly be reckoned ours as the basis for our justification" (CJPM, 51).

But Professor VanDrunen does not define "merit". He seems to make the argument that because Christ, the true image bearer, merited before God, Adam, as an image-bearer, also could have merited before God. In his quote there appears to be a one-to-one correlation between the merit of Christ and the merit of Adam. This is questionable ground, in my view. He needs to define merit, otherwise we are left guessing, at best, what he means. Is he departing from what the Reformed scholastics meant by merit or agreeing with them?

There are important Christological reasons why Christ could merit, but Adam could not. If our understanding of what constitutes a meritorious work follows the Reformed scholastics, then the answer is quite simple: the dignity of Christ's person (as theanthropos) explains why he, and he alone, could merit before God. 

In this post I want to explain how we may speak of God being gracious to Christ while at the same time arguing for the merit of Christ. 

Christ's Grace
The Father upheld his Son, his servant, by bestowing upon him the Holy Spirit to enable him to perform the work given to him (Isa. 42:1), which flows from the terms of the eternal covenant of redemption. 

In Luke's gospel we read of Christ: "And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor (charis) of God was upon him... And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor (chariti) with God and man" (Lk. 2:40, 52).

Luke speaks of Jesus increasing in chariti (from the Greek, charis). Does this mean "favor" as many English translations suggest? Or should we translate the Greek as "grace"? A number of translations render "charis" in Luke 2:40 as grace (e.g., NIV, NASB, KJV). We do not need to get too picky about which word is used, provided we understand that divine grace is not merely God's goodness to the elect in the era of redemptive history. Nor is grace simply offered to those who have sinned. 

Divine grace is a perfection of God's nature, and thus a characteristic of how he relates to finite creatures, even apart from sin. In the garden, the grace of God was upon Adam; in the "wilderness," the grace of God is upon his Son, the second Adam. God's graciousness may be summarized simply as what he is in and of himself. As Psalm 145:8-9 makes clear: "The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made." 

God may be "gracious" to Jesus - not as though he sinned - because God is gracious to his creatures. How much more to his beloved Son? God showed favor to his favorite Son. Christ's human nature was sanctified and filled with graces (Gal. 5:22). "For let the natural faculties of the soul, mind, will, and affections, be created pure, innocent, undefiled, - as they cannot be otherwise created immediately by God, - yet there is not enough to enable any rational creature to live to God; much less was it all that was in Jesus Christ" (John Owen, Works, 3:168-69). Thus Bavinck: "If humans in general cannot have communion with God except by the Holy Spirit, then this applies even more powerfully to Christ's human nature" (RD, 3:292).

Christ's Merit

How, then, is it possible that Christ could merit salvation for the elect if he was sustained by the Father through the Spirit (i.e., received grace)? 

First, concerning Maccovius's point that the work must proceed from one's own powers for it to be properly meritorious, we may say that the Sprit is still the Spirit of the Son. So while the Son voluntarily submitted to the will of the Father, to be upheld by the Father, the divine nature which operated upon Christ mediately through the Spirit was still, ontologically speaking, Christ's Spirit (i.e., "own powers"). Hence, Christ's work (obedience) proceeds from his own power, even if it was mediated through the Spirit. 
Second, Anselm argued that Christ, as a rational being, owed obedience to God.  But to make satisfaction on behalf of sinners, Christ had to go beyond a life of obedience - he had to die. As the God-man, Christ's death was therefore supererogatory - a death above God's requirement of him.  His death is superabundant to make satisfaction for sins.  Gataker and Vines, for example, used Anselm's argument to reject the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.  Christ's death was supererogatory and therefore his death merited eternal life. In other words, Gataker and Vines argued Anselm's point that Christ's obedience is required, but his death is not required; ergo: only the merits of Christ's death are imputed to believers, that is, his "passive" obedience.

Goodwin resisted this line of argument. Goodwin argued that the Assembly must grant the assumption of the Anselmians that Christ, in his humanity, was obliged to fulfill the law. However, for Goodwin, Christ, as the God-man, had a unique dignity and so was not obliged to keep the law in the same way a creature is, especially since his law-keeping was voluntary. Daniel Featley also held that Christ's hypostatical union meant that he was freed from the obligation of the law.  True, Christ had a human nature, but he was not a human person.  The dignity of the person, which in the case of Christ is infinite, alters his relationship to the law. As a result, Goodwin and Featley argued that since Christ was not obliged to obey the law but did so anyway, he must have been doing so on behalf of his people.  

Goodwin and Featley's position may be summed up that "whatsoever is debitum is not meritum." That is to say, Christ's obedience to the law was not an ontological necessity as the "Anselmians" (i.e. those who rejected the IAOC) maintained, but rather a functional necessity by virtue of Christ's pretemporal agreement with the Father to fulfill the law on behalf of sinners. 

Opus indebitum ["a non-indebted work"] is maintained this way for Christ. In other words, Adam did not come freely, hence his obedience was "indebted," unlike Christ's, which was not indebted. Therefore the parallel breaks down at that point concerning merit between the two Adams. 

As William Perkins argues, protecting the uniqueness of Christ as the one who alone can merit has certain implications for imputation:

"And the true merit whereby we looked to attain the favor of God, and life everlasting, is to be found in the person of Christ alone: who is the storehouse of all our merits: whose prerogative it is, to be the person alone in whom God is well pleased. God's favor is of infinite dignity, and no creature is able to do a work that may countervail the favor of God, save Christ alone: who by reason of the dignity of his person, being not a mere man but God-man, or Man-God, he can do such works as are of endless dignity ever way answerable to the favor of God: and therefore sufficient to merit the same for us. And though a merit or meritorious work agree only to the person of Christ, yet is it made our by imputation. For as his righteousness is made ours, so are his merits depending thereon: but his righteousness is made ours by imputation.... Hence arises another point, namely, that as Christ's righteousness is made ours really [secundum veritatem] by imputation to make us righteous: so we by the merit of his righteousness imputed to merit and deserve life everlasting. And this is our doctrine."

In Summary

Merit must be something that is not owed: Christ freely came to obey in our place, hence it was not owed. Adam did not freely make the decision to place himself under the law of the covenant of works.

Merit should proceed from the powers of the one who deserves it: Christ relied upon his Father's grace - the grace of the Holy Spirit - but, ontologically speaking, the will and essence of God are one, and therefore Christ's merit proceeded "from the powers of the one who deserves it." Adam was upheld by the Spirit in the Garden, but it was not his Spirit.

The rewards given to Christ for his meritorious obedience were of use to him because of the glory that would come to his name. God is jealous for his glory, so when Christ merited glory there was no threat of God sharing his glory. 

Finally, the rewards given to Christ are proportionate to the work he performed. Adam's reward would have been far greater, assuming we say that Adam would have been granted heavenly life, than what he "worked for".

Professor VanDrunen and I both want to argue for the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness. I do not think, however, that holding to Adamic merit is the way to go about such a noble endeavor. My concern is the dignity of Christ, who alone can merit.

Updated. No tag line anymore.

Can Humans Merit Before God? (1 of 2)

Some recent defenders of justification by faith have appealed to the concept of Adamic merit because of what they perceive to be the obvious parallels between Adam and Christ. Christ merited as the second Adam, ergo...

How do we understand the theological concept of merit between humans and God? Could Adam merit anything before God in the Garden? Understanding the first question will help us to answer the second question. 

According to Johannes Maccovius, for something to be meritorious, four things are required:

1. It must be something that is not owed.
2. It should proceed from the powers of the one who deserves it.
3. It must be of use to him of whom someone thinks that he deserves something.
4. The reward must not be greater than the merit.

The Westminster divine, Obadiah Sedgwick, in Bowels of Tender Mercy (pp. 460-61), similarly suggests that merit:

1.    Must be opus indebitum ["a non-indebted work"]--for he who does do no more than he ought to do, or suffers what he deserves to suffer, merits nothing by his doing, or by his suffering.

2.    Must be opus perfectum ["a perfect work"]--against which no exception can be taken--nothing is meritorious which is short and faulty.

3.    Must be opus infinitum ["an infinite work"]--a work of infinite value and worth, which cannot only stand before justice, but plead also with it and challenge it for the dignity of what is done or suffered (see also William Perkins or Ursinus, who claims that our good works, which are necessary and to be done for rewards, cannot even merit temporal blessings).

In his discussion on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, James Fisher makes the point, basically echoed by all of his contemporaries and predecessors, that there was no proportion between Adam's obedience and the life promised (whatever that "life" was). Adam could not, therefore, merit eternal life. Why? "Because perfect obedience was no more than what he was bound unto, by virtue of his natural dependence on God..." (Fisher). Anthony Burgess acknowledges that although Adam was in a covenant of works he "could not merit that happiness which God would bestow upon him." God's grace to man is "an infinite good, and all that is done by us is finite." 

Adam's obedience was made possible not because he obeyed simply in his own strength, but also because he had assisting grace from God. William Ames argues that Adam persisted in the garden by grace and that "grace was not taken from him before he had sinned." Ames was not alone in making this point. The acts were Adam's, but that does not mean that he did not receive power from God (hence: the act/power distinction).

George Downame, in his treatise on justification, and in a section where he is opposing Papist theologians, claims that God is not a debtor to any, including Adam: "For [God] covenants Non de debito sed de gratuito, not for rendering a due debt, but for freely bestowing his own free gift, not according to debt, but according to grace."

The original covenant made with Adam was gracious, even though it was also a covenant of works/life (so Ursinus). Reformed theologians in the seventeenth century generally did not see works as opposed to grace in God's covenantal dealings with Adam and Eve. This point seems to be rejected by some today when the bilateral structure of redemptive history is brought up.

Patrick Gillespie, in The Ark of the Testament Opened (1681), spends a good deal of time highlighting the similarities and differences between the covenants of works and of grace. He first considers a number of similarities between the two before moving to a discussion of their differences. In both, God was the efficient cause; that is, he is the author of both covenants. In both, the moving cause is the grace of God. Some Puritans (e.g., Francis Roberts) were not altogether keen on the use of "works" and "grace" as the principal designations of these two covenants for the simple reason that "there was very much of Grace and Favor in both." Personally, I don't have a problem with the two-covenant schema described as a covenant of works and a covenant of grace, but we shouldn't assume that the covenant of works was devoid of grace, even thought it was not the grace of mercy through Christ that we experience.

Patrick Gillespie, like all of the Reformed orthodox of that era, admits that in the covenant of works the condition was obedience and the reward resulted from works; yet, "even that Covenant was thus far a Covenant of Grace (emphasis mine)." Not only did God's grace provide the motive for the establishment of the covenant in Eden, but God also "freely endued man with all the habits of Grace in perfection" (cf. Ames above). Moreover, the promised reward was gracious because Adam's obedience could not merit anything from God.

Francis Roberts argues that God's entering into the covenant of works with Adam was an "act of divine grace and favor, not of debt." God could have dealt only in terms of "command," requiring duty from Adam without a reward. However, God's condescending to Adam and entering into a covenant with him was "mere grace," according to Roberts. In connection with this, he insists that Adam could not merit any reward. Even if Adam had rendered perfect obedience, he would still have "been an unprofitable servant, having done nothing but what was duty." In fact, Roberts suggests that if God's dealings with Adam in the covenant of works were an "Act of Divine Grace," then God's covenant of grace was an act of "superabounding and transcendent grace."

If Sinai is a republication of the covenant of works because there is a "works principle" concerning the retention of the land on a corporate level, we may also say, "in some sense," that it is also a republication of a gracious covenant of works! How many advocates for republication are willing to say that Sinai is a republication of a gracious covenant of works? Again, this is not to deny the bilateral structure of redemptive history (CoW and CoG), but to suggest that the details of each covenant administration need to be clearly set forth. (I personally hold to material republication, not formal republication).

This is why I was a little surprised to read Bryan Estelle claim that the works-principle in the old covenant functioned in such a way as to provide the "meritorious grounds for Israel's continuance in the land?" (Estelle, TLNF, 136) (emphasis mine). What does he mean by "meritorious grounds" and how can fallen sinners merit anything, even corporately in relation to temporal blessings? I suspect Professor Estelle might have a different conception of merit than what I have highlighted above from our classical Reformed theologians. 

Calvin Beisner and R. Fowler White have argued that Adam could indeed merit in the Garden of Eden: "One the one hand, there was the principle of personal merit according to which the reward of everlasting life was promised and would be rendered to Adam as merited by his obedience...On the other hand, there was the principle of representative merit according to which the reward of everlasting life would be rendered to Adam's posterity as vicariously merited for them by Adam's obedience and unilaterally imputed to them..." (p. 151).

In the essay they also happen to claim their views reflect "classical" covenant theology. 

The concept of ex pacto merit emerges later on in the seventeenth century, but not at the expense of affirming that there was grace in the Garden (the writers say as much). Those who want to affirm "ex pacto merit" should, if they wish to maintain general agreement with the Reformed orthodox of the seventeenth century, also be comfortable with (and perhaps insist upon) pre-Fall grace. If grace is defined simply as God's favor in the place of demerit, then it doesn't make much sense to speak of God showing grace to Adam in Eden. But that definition of grace is, I believe, wrong-headed because Christ received God's grace.

Christ was, unlike Adam, able to merit before God; but Christ was also endowed with the habits of grace in order to keep the terms of the covenant. In other words, in order to keep the Adam-Christ parallels, we must not actually abandon the concept of grace given to them both, but actually affirm it. It has been a peculiar oddity that some assume that the parallels between the two Adams means that Adam could not have received the grace of God because Christ did not. But this view is based on the fatal assumption that God was not gracious to Christ in any sense. 

David VanDrunen, in criticizing Norman Shepherd's rejection of merit in the Garden of Eden, makes the following claim:

"It is not difficult to see how such a view, if taken seriously, makes belief in Christ's active, imputed obedience impossible. If image bearers do not merit anything before God, then the true image bearer, Christ, did not merit anything before God, and his perfect obedience can hardly be reckoned ours as the basis for our justification" (CJPM, 51). 

This paragraph by Professor VanDrunen will give me an opportunity in the next post to examine more carefully - I trust, in an irenic tone - some of his claims from a historical and biblical perspective. 

But it is interesting to me that some recent defences of justification seem to approach the topic somewhat differently than what I find in the Early Modern era when it comes to merit and the Edenic context for Adam's obedience. 

(updated) Pastor Mark Jones would like to thank all of the "amateur" theologians who have helped him understand these things better. 

Republication Debates

A regrettable piece was published on the Aquila report concerning the Reformed doctrine of republication. I honestly didn't know whether to laugh or cry. In it the author claims that the views of Meredith G. Kline represent "historic, mainstream Reformed federalism, espoused from the time of the Reformation to the present," as opposed to the heterodoxy of many others, including Richard Gaffin. 

The author even manages to excoriate almost every Reformed Seminary, but lauds Westminster West "as the sole seminary promoting the biblical view (as we understand the issues)" on republication and justification. 

But is Kline's covenant theology the historic, mainstream Reformed federalism that emerged from the time of the Reformation? That's an important historical and theological question.

What is the doctrine of "republication"? 

Very simply, some people speak about the "covenant of works" (see WCF 7.2) being "republished" at Sinai - hence, the doctrine of republication. But after that, many of us are all groping around in the dark as to what some modern proponents mean by "republication." 

One of the problems concerns the way we define the covenant of works, including all of its basic elements. Even among Reformed theologians in the seventeenth century, there were disagreements on the precise nature of the covenant of works. 

What was the "life" promised? Temporal life in the Garden or eternal life in Heaven? The Westminster documents leave this question undecided. 

Was the covenant of works gracious? 

In my view, the presence of divine grace before the Fall was a basic assumption of almost all Reformed theologians in the seventeenth century. It was not a meritorious covenant, as in proper merit (i.e. condign merit). 

According to Johannes Maccovius, for something to be meritorious, four things are necessary: 1. It must be something that is not owed. 2. It should proceed from the powers of those who deserve it. 3. It must be of use to him of whom someone thinks that he deserves something. 4. The reward must not be greater than the merit. Thus, Adam clearly could not merit (eternal) life, and neither could Israel merit typological blessings (e.g., land). 

Did Adam live by faith in the Garden? Yes, just as Christ lived by faith in the wilderness. The just, including the just one (Jesus) during his life on earth, live by faith. 

Was Adam's faith natural or supernatural? Again, Reformed theologians wrestled with this question.

Was Adam's fundamental problem a failure to depend on the Holy Spirit for his obedience, as John Owen argued? 

Was the Holy Spirit or the Son the Mediator in the covenant of works? Or was there no Mediator? 

These and other questions need to be addressed before we can begin to tackle in what sense the covenant of works was "republished" at Sinai. 

Some people seem to begin with their own understanding of the covenant of works and then work from that principle to the doctrine of republication, forgetting that their view of the covenant of works (e.g., strict merit) doesn't quite have the strong Reformed pedigree they assume it has.

Once this is done, we should move on to the next question: 

How do we distinguish between formal republication and material republication? 

The moral law is not strictly co-extensive (i.e., equal to) with the covenant of works. The covenant of works was a particular, historical covenant, which involved trees, sacraments, etc. The moral law remains binding upon all humans, but that does not make the moral law the covenant of works. Formal republication almost makes the error of equating the moral law with the original covenant of works, whereas material republication simply asserts that the moral law is given afresh at Sinai on tables of stone. 

Thus, material republication of the moral law should not raise any eyebrows. And critics of republication are not (as far as I am aware) taking issue with "material republication." It has a strong historical precedent. I have certainly never denied that in my own published writings on the topic.

Formal republication is quite another thing, however. But if someone is prepared to affirm "formal" or "material" republication, they also need to explain in what sense the New Covenant may also be or not be a "formal" or "material" republication of the covenant of works. After all, the law is written on our hearts, which is (in some sense!) a return to Eden. And, as the WCF (19.6) makes clear, believers may expect "blessings" upon "performing"/keeping the moral law, as long as it is "sincere" obedience. 

Moreover, if the covenant of life (WLC Q. & A 20) demands of Adam, "personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience," may the covenant at Sinai be called a covenant of works in any meaningful sense? Remember, the Israelites were utterly unable to offer "perfect" obedience. At best, it was sincere obedience, which is the type of obedience that belongs to the covenant of grace.

As noted, it is one thing to say the moral law, given to Adam, was republished at Sinai - hardly a controversial point, to my mind - but quite another thing to say that the Mosaic covenant is a meritorious covenant based on works with regard to temporal blessings. The OPC study committee on this issue needs to settle the issue of the role of merit in the old covenant more than whether Reformed theologians in the seventeenth century spoke of "republication." 

Can sinners merit anything before God? In my view, the only person who can merit anything before God is Christ because of the infinite value of his person and work. 

However, for the sake of argument, let's say the Mosaic covenant has a meritorious element. Does that make it a republication of the covenant of works? Not necessarily. After all, you would have to re-define the covenant of works to make it a meritorious covenant. But what if you hold to the uncontroversial view that Adam, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, lived by faith in the Garden of Eden as he perfectly obeyed God's law (for a time)? How is Sinai similar to that covenantal context and how is it different? 

Retaining temporal promises in Canaan based on imperfect, meritorious obedience is not republication. The conditions and promises are fundamentally different. What Kline does is something altogether different than what even John Owen and others did. Readers should note that Klinean covenant theology is not really classical Reformed "republicationism." Talk of historical precedent is not all that relevant, as surprising as that may sound. 

The sooner we recognize that Kline's view is, historically considered, a little idiosyncratic, the sooner we can move on to discussing in more detail Kline's use of Mendenhall regarding Ancient Near Eastern Suzerain treaties. That's where published scholars of ANE history, such as Noel Weeks, have done such a good job of exposing the deficiencies of trying to understand biblical covenants as reflective of Suzerain treaties. 

Without the historical precedent, as well as the ANE treaties to buttress their case, those holding to Kline's view are left with the exegetical argument. And that may be their best bet. I'm quite willing to make the distinction between the historical and the exegetical argument.

Nonetheless, they will always have to deal with the problem of redefining merit in order to justify their view.

In sum, I am not concerned so much whether the doctrine of republication has historical precedent. Rather, I want to know what people actually mean when they talk about republication. I can heartily affirm certain forms of republication, but I cannot affirm that there is a works-principle at the typological level (that is devoid of assisting grace) and thus functions as the meritorious grounds for Israel's continuance in the land. The existential crisis this would have created for those who lived by grace through faith in Christ needs to be reckoned with. Imagine being a pastor in that context!

Indeed, if many of our finest Reformed theologians are to be believed, God provided assisting grace to Adam in the Garden (just as God provided assisting grace to Jesus during his ministry). And, to me, that doesn't sound like the type of covenant that some people think was "republished" at Sinai. 

If you are interested in this debate you can check out the following book, Merit and Moses. Also the Law is Not of Faith provides another viewpoint for people to consider alongside the aforementioned book.

Pastor Mark Jones hopes he'll never bore and confuse his congregation by speaking about ANE treaties.