Darkwing Duck and the Case of the COW

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py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Here is a pretty plain statement:

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; 5:12�20), upon condition of perfect and personal obedience (Gen. 2:17; Gal. 3:10).

Periodically, great Homer nods and I believe that is the case here. While there is no necessary problem with the doctrine, the Westminster divines have badly named this covenant. To call this covenant with Adam a covenant "of works" leads people to confuse it either with the Old Testament economy, or with pharisaical distortions of the law. This misunderstanding is evident in the scriptural reference given for this point. To call it works opposes it, in the scriptural terminology, to grace. But the covenant given to Adam prior to the Fall was in no way opposed to grace. It would be far better to call this pre-Fall covenant a covenant of creation. In this covenant, life was promised to Adam and his descendents as the fruit of perfect and personal obedience. But notice the word fruit�as a covenant of creation, grace is not opposed to it, and permeates the whole. If by "covenant of works" is meant raw merit, then we have to deny the covenant of works. But if this covenant made with Adam was inherently gracious (as many Reformed theologians have held), then the only problem is the terminological one. And, with regard to whether the covenant was gracious, a simple thought experiment will suffice. If Adam had withstood temptation successfully, would he have had any obligation to say "thank You" to God. If not, then it is not a gracious covenant. If so, then it was.

Thoughts? Blessings? Bile?
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
"If Adam had withstood temptation successfully, would he have had any obligation to say "thank You" to God. If not, then it is not a gracious covenant. If so, then it was."

Interesting test. It may point to the heart of the dispute, but not to the heart of the matter. Do we have any authority to acknowledge this as the sine qua non?

The Genesis account does not seem to place an obligation upon Adam to say "thank you". But, I would think, that Adam would have said so anyway, had he remained obedient.

But that is just my speculation.
 

Peter

Puritan Board Junior
I don't think anyone believes it was not gracious and lovingkind of God to put Adam in a Covenant of Works or that had Adam fulfilled the covenant he would have any grounds to be unthankful. If someone gets an "A" on a test then they have earned the satisfaction of that grade (merit) yet they owe it to the giver and grader of the test.
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
Originally posted by victorbravo
:p Oops, Scott, I forgot my manners.:spurgeon: (Cool smilies!)

RV,
I have benefitted greatly from much of Wilsons works. On this issue, he is wrong; obviously, again, he is redefining things outside of that which the historic church has held.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
If Adam had withstood temptation successfully, would he have had any obligation to say "thank You" to God. If not, then it is not a gracious covenant. If so, then it was.

This is simply confusing the matter. The divines were clear enough. The first covenant was not gracious but God condescending to man. God set the stipulations and the reward. Adam would indeed say 'thankyou' to God for making the covenant with him and equipping him with everything adequate to fulfill those stipulations. But the promised reward was still based upon the performance of Adam, not the intervention of God on his behalf due to his inability.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Hardly anyone disputes that God was not under obligation to set up any sort of covenant with man, or to set up his covenant any certain way; nor is there much dispute that man should be grateful for any sort of covenant.

But we ought to follow the older writers, and wisely use terminology like "voluntary condescension" instead of "grace" when speaking on these terms, precisely because we want to express something more definite by the term "grace" than merely a blanket expression for divine condescension. "Grace" to post-fall sinners is practically a different species of relation entirely from condescension to unfallen man. Our terminology ought to reflect this; and as it happens, I believe it clearly does in the Bible as well, so the terminology the WCF uses is Scriptural.

The fact is that God set up a meritorious covenant, and made promises contingent on Adam's obedience. Thus, by obedience Adam would merit the blessing according to the promise of God. The covenant is properly opposed in this very sense to the covenant of grace, because grace is diametrically opposed to works.

In the frst covenant, God allowed that man should have a claim, a debt, to respectfully ask for, should he be obedient to the end of his probation. So in this sense, no, he wouldn't be obliged to say "thank you, even though I am laying a claim to your self-imposed promise/ obligation."

In the present covenant (of grace) the promise of God to man is not contingent on human obedience at all. The human obedience that is found in the redeemed is reckoned a product of divine work. We certainly owe a "thank you" in this case that sublimely transcends anything we might have conceived of in gratitude prior to the fall.

Recognizing that it is a "works" covenant is Pauline to the core, the above author's protests notwithstanding. So, the problem with people's misunderstanding the terminology is not a problem inherent in the terminology, but the age-old sin problem in deficient hearers and teachers.

Fruit=product. I'm not sure what this portion of the extract refers to, except the author's own re-wording of confessional terminology for his own purposes. "Fruit" is a biblical word--so is "wages". And the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). And the wage of work is a debt (Rom. 4:4). Paul clearly speaks of "fruit" in the post-fall context of sin (Rom. 7:5) and redemption and sanctification (Rom 6:22). So, I think the author has yet to even demonstrate that which he postulates--namely that "fruit" and "grace" are twin paradigmatic concepts around which to build a single covenant concept.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Originally posted by Scott Bushey
I have benefitted greatly from much of Wilsons works. On this issue, he is wrong; obviously, again, he is redefining things outside of that which the historic church has held.

One is obliged to know what the historic church meant by the phrase "covenant of works," especially seeing the Standards use the word "commonly called" with respect to it. It is often the case that a renaissance fails to recognise all the nuances of an original movement; and I believe that is what has taken place here. Wilson is certainly struggling to come to terms with the phraseology; but it seems his detractors are importing too much into the phraseology.

In the Standards and in the writings of the Westminster divines, there is one sense only in which works is applicatory to the prelapsarian covenant. Works = personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, and is the condition upon which life was promised. That is all. To require a person to articulate more than that is unreasonable.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Does any one have any idea who "the many reformed theologians" who think that the pre-lapsarian covenant was "inherently gracious" might be?
 

tewilder

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by py3ak
Does any one have any idea who "the many reformed theologians" who think that the pre-lapsarian covenant was "inherently gracious" might be?

It is important to distinguish two things. There is God's condescension in initiating the covenant, and there is the relation between God and man within the terms of the Covenant of Works.

There are plenty of theologians of many periods who have used terms such as grace to describe God's initiantive in making the covenant in the first place, but still hold that a Covenant of Works was made. Others have preferred to reserve the term "grace" for God's saving initiatives after the Fall.

But there are those who use the argument that the fact that it has been called gracious that God initiated the covenant shows that the covenant qua covenant was an arrangement of grace and not one of conditions with reward or punishment bound to them, and that therefore there was no Covenant of Works.

There are those who have sought to confuse things by quoting theologians with a view to confusing the condescension of God in initiating the covenant with man's situation under the covenant when it had been made.

Secondly, there are theologians who deny that there was such a thing as a Covenant of Works. These include various Dutch people, such as S.G. De Graaf who wrote Promise and Deliverance, the South African C. Van Der Waal, and in America Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed People, and R.J. Rushdoony.

In a sort of weird half-way position between the Westminster Cf and the Hoeksema view is Richard Bacon who says:

<blockquote>There was a covenant instituted in the garden. That much is clear. While it is arrogant of theologians to speculate regarding "what-ifs," in my opinion, nevertheless this has become fair game it seems. My exegesis of 1 Cor. 15:45ff leads me to conclude that 1) Adam had no life-giving ability; his sin but not his righteousness could be imputed; 2) his origin and therefore his life was completely earthy, not heavenly; 3) his life was a natural life, not a spiritual life; 4) the Adamic image in us could only have led to an earthly, natural life and the image of the Lord of heaven would under any circumstances have been needful for us to attain to a spiritual, heavenly life. </blockquote>

and

<blockquote>My opinion is that Adam was not only created righteous, but with a positive inclination to obey God in all particulars. However, to inherit eternal heavenly life, he would need the imputed righteousness of Christ.</blockquote>

and

<blockquote>What I actually said (earlier) was that Adam needed the righteousness of Christ in order to advance to any other than an earthly estate. He would not have been able to advance to glory apart from the righteousness of Christ. However, he did have a personal righteousness of his own. Since the fall, we do not have a personal righteousness. We are totally depraved -- i.e. not even a "smidgeon" of righteousness remains for us. So, since the fall, there is no other righteousness available to man. Prior to the fall, there was an earthly, losable, righteousness in Adam. So, not a contradiction; simply distinctions.</blockquote>

which goes to show that all sorts of variations are possible.

One further qualification. Hoeksema denied the Covenant of Works, but he did not deny the imputation of the merit of Christ's active obedience. But Hoeksema then had to identify a covenant to which Christ was obedient in a meritorious way, and he said this was the Covenant of Redemption, involving Christ's humiliation in the incarnation.
 

WrittenFromUtopia

Puritan Board Graduate
My opinion is that Adam was not only created righteous, but with a positive inclination to obey God in all particulars. However, to inherit eternal heavenly life, he would need the imputed righteousness of Christ.

This is straight out of the WCF, which states in Chapter VI, "By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God...".
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Gabriel, I think the second sentence of the fragment you quote is what Mr. Wilder thinks is a bit strange.
 

nominalist747

Puritan Board Freshman
It seems to me that Doug is pretty close in substance to Turretin:

"...God so stipulated [the cov't of nature] that man--by the powers received in creation--could perform it, although in order that he might actually perform it, he still needed the help of God both to actuate these powers and to preserve them from change." (IET, 8.3.14) Thus, Adam would still have owed thanks to God for His actuating and preserving of Adam's created powers.

"But with respect to God, it [the cov't of nature] was gratuitous, as depending upon a pact or gratuitous promise (by which God was not bound to man, but to himself and to his own goodness, fidelity, and truth, Rom. 3:3, 2 Tim. 2:13). Therefore there was no debt (properly so called) from which man could derive a right, but only a debt of fidelity, arising out of the promise by which God demonstrated his infallible and immutable constancy and truth...If therefore upright man in that state had obtained this merit, it must not be understood properly and rigorously. Since man has all things from and owes all to God, he can seek from him nothing as his own by right, nor can God be a debtor to him--not by condignity of work and from its intrinsic value...but from the pact and the liberal promise of God...and in comparison with the covenant of grace...However, this demanded antecedently a proper and personal obedience by which he obtained both his own justification and life..." (IET, 8.3.16-17)

Let me observe that FT seems to be very careful to use every term besides "grace" (although I haven't access to the original Latin--can anyone check the Latin terms for me?): gratuitous pact, promise. Still, he seems to be close in substance to Wilson here, especially with the striking comparison to the covenant of grace! I've left out the parenthetical comments in the interests of space, but it seems that the comparison is that in both the cov't of nature and the cov't of grace, man could only gain because of the action of God (NB: in 12.2.5, FT refers to the CoG as "a gratuitous pact," a very similar phrase to the CoW). So, FT would seem also to deny "raw merit."

I really could wish that Wilson would accept the CoW terminology in at least a qualified way, but it seems that in substance he is quite close to Turretin's expressions regarding the fundamentally, shall we say, gratuitous nature of the cov't with Adam.
 

nominalist747

Puritan Board Freshman
Yes, very extensively, in the Twelfth Topic, and it's a fantastic discussion, distinguishing between the CoG and CoW in a variety of subtle and elegant ways. I just wanted to highlight the fact that FT make some pretty strong statements on the promissory and gratuitous nature of the CoW, which Wilson's line about Adam giving thanks to God for fulfilling the stipulations of his covenant reminded me of. As I said, I do wish Wilson would accept the CoW language, even if he wishes to qualify it in the same way that FT does. But Wilson seems to distinguish the cov't of creation, as he wants to call it, from the CoG by the following:

-The parties of the latter are God and sinful mankind, while in the former, they are God and righteous Adam.
-The Mediator in the latter, which was not needed in the former.
-The benefits of the latter include pardon from sins and life, while the former was simply life.

All of these are among the key distinctions that Turretin makes. Taking the earlier statement alone could make us raise our eyebrows, but things are cleared up later, and I find much the same thing to be the case with Wilson (although I still really wish he would accept the CoW terminology, even in a qualified sense!).
 

BobVigneault

Bawberator
Turretin would say,

"To be true merit, then, these five conditions are demanded: (1) that the "work be undue"--for no one merits by paying what he owes (Luke 17.10), he only satisfies; (2) that it be ours-for no one can be said to merit from another; (3) that it be absolutely perfect and free from all taint-for where sin is there merit cannot be; (4) that it be equal and proportioned to the reward and pay; otherwise it would be a gift, not merit. (5) that the reward be due to such a work from justice-whence an "undue work" is commonly defined to be one that "makes a reward due in the order of justice." (Institutes 17.5.4)


and


"Adam himself, if he had persevered, would not have merited life in strict justice, although (through a certain condescension) God promised him by a covenant life under the condition of perfect obedience (which is called meritorious from that covenant in a broader sense...)" (Institutes 17.5.7)



[Edited on 10-12-2006 by BobVigneault]
 

Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
Originally posted by BobVigneault
Turretin would say,
"Adam himself, if he had persevered, would not have merited life in strict justice, although (through a certain condescension) God promised him by a covenant life under the condition of perfect obedience (which is called meritorious from that covenant in a broader sense...)" (Institutes 17.5.7)

I'm not sure that I understand what Turretin is getting at in this quote. Have any ideas?
 

tewilder

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by BobVigneault
Turretin would say,

"To be true merit, then, these five conditions are demanded: (1) that the "work be undue"--for no one merits by paying what he owes (Luke 17.10), he only satisfies; (2) that it be ours-for no one can be said to merit from another; (3) that it be absolutely perfect and free from all taint-for where sin is there merit cannot be; (4) that it be equal and proportioned to the reward and pay; otherwise it would be a gift, not merit. (5) that the reward be due to such a work from justice-whence an "undue work" is commonly defined to be one that "makes a reward due in the order of justice." (Institutes 17.5.4)


and


"Adam himself, if he had persevered, would not have merited life in strict justice, although (through a certain condescension) God promised him by a covenant life under the condition of perfect obedience (which is called meritorious from that covenant in a broader sense...)" (Institutes 17.5.7)

[Edited on 10-12-2006 by BobVigneault]

One must understand Scholastic terminology. Terms were used in a "proper" sense and in an extended sense.

For Turretin, the proper sense of "merit" was natural, non-covenantal merit, what Adam could do qua man, apart from the covenant. Merit arising from keeping the terms of the covenant was not "proper" merit, but an analogous or extended usage of the term.

There is nothing that man can do that by natural law would deserve what God promised in the covenant. Hence it is not "proper" merit. It is interesting to see how many people like Turretin's denial of "proper" merit and yet who are also Van Tillians who do not like the natural law basis of the distinction in other matters.
 

tewilder

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by Jeff_Bartel
Originally posted by BobVigneault
Turretin would say,
"Adam himself, if he had persevered, would not have merited life in strict justice, although (through a certain condescension) God promised him by a covenant life under the condition of perfect obedience (which is called meritorious from that covenant in a broader sense...)" (Institutes 17.5.7)

I'm not sure that I understand what Turretin is getting at in this quote. Have any ideas?

"Strict justice" correlates to "proper merit". That is, the actions that Adam was called upon to do would naturally (by natural law) be in proportion to the promise offered.

Now Kline says it would be strict justice. Why? Because Kline does not begin with natural law and the associated idea of "proper merit" etc. constructed in terms of natural law concepts.

Now if you don't believe in natural law, how do you deal with ideas such as "to deserve"? What would Adam have deserved, if there is not a law of nature dictating a proportion between actions and rewards?

A divine command ethics theorist would say that "deserve" does not opperate until there are commands and conditions from God, i.e. covenant and things similar to covenants. Therefore, to a divine command theorist there is not any merit until there is a covenant, and then the covenant says what it is to merit.

For a divine command ethicist it is not that, outside the covenant, Adam's actions would be un-deserving of the reward, but that there would be no criteria to give meaning to "deserve".

Someone with some other ethical theoery would have to put forward the theory and then explain what it is to "deserve" in terms of that theory.

What the Federal Vision people do is that they become natural law theorists just long enough to attack the Covenant of Works, insisting that it is not compatible with merit (in the Scholastic sense of "proper merit") and then they go back to being Van Tillians.

[Edited on 10-12-2006 by tewilder]
 

VanVos

Puritan Board Sophomore
Of course it will come as no surprise for those who know me, but I agree with Kline. We need to speak of the Covenant of Works as a matter of strict justice, this will safe guard us from blurring the law-gospel distinction of scripture. The CoW has to be sharply defined in antithesis to the Covenant of Grace. Maybe I'm being too simplistic, but I do believe that Kline's position best reflect the unified simplistic nature of God.

VanVos
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Originally posted by VanVos
Maybe I'm being too simplistic, but I do believe that Kline's position best reflect the unified simplistic nature of God.

Aren't you over-simplifying the nature of God, by binding a single attribute to a single dispensation of God? Reformed theology teaches that God's justice was satisfied under the covenant of grace. Hence there is no dilemma created by saying that God's grace was magnified in the covenant of works.
 

VanVos

Puritan Board Sophomore
I don't think I'm binding a single attribute to a single dispensation of God, I'm saying that grace seen in a legal covenant sense is absent from the Covenant of works. I don't see how it's helpful to speak of Covenant works as the magnification of God's grace. But I also know that it can be semantics and not necessarily a disagreement. I'm just arguing that we should be over obvious in our terms and language when discussing this issue.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Then I must confess, I don't understand your claim as to the unified simplistic nature of God.
 

VanVos

Puritan Board Sophomore
I mean God is a unified simple being and His creation, including his covenants, should reflect this. That is we should not expect to find contrary principles in the makeup of the covenants of scripture. So to speak of the Covenant of works as a blend of grace and works is to arguably cast a shadow on God's unity and simplicity.

VanVos

[Edited on 10-12-2006 by VanVos]
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I see the problem. In that case, we are not actually blending works and grace in the prelapsarian covenant. For we are saying there is a sense in which it is of grace, that is, so far as disposition is concerned; but there is another sense in which it is of works, that is, so far as dispensation is concerned. Your interest is in preserving the dispensation, and calling it altogether of works. That is not denied. Adam only could have obtained the promise by personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience. This does not negate the fact, however, that the promise itself was altogether of grace. And so far as his posterity are concerned, it would have been grace to them both in disposition and dispensation, since the reward was not of their working, but of their father's.
 

VanVos

Puritan Board Sophomore
I think I agree. The only query I have is your last comment about the reward being of grace. If you mean by this that it would have been a supernatural of God in glorifying humanity then I agree, but I would add that it would have been based upon the merited active obedience of Adam. The reward would have been commensurate and proportionate to his work as the image of God.

VanVos

[Edited on 10-12-2006 by VanVos]
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Originally posted by VanVos
I think I agree. The only query I have is your last comment about the reward being of grace. If you mean by this that it would have been a supernatural of God in glorifying humanity then I agree, but I would add that it would have been based upon the merited active obedience of Adam. The reward would have been commensurate and proportionate to his work as the image of God.

Here is the problem with "merit," because the language of congruity and condignity is brought into it, as when you use the words "commensurate" and "proportionate." This is the very idea the older divines were avoiding by removing the word "merit" from their vocabulary.

The problem arises from an over-working of the two Adam structure of Paul's thought. One starts by saying Christ merited life for the elect, therefore Adam was to merit life for his posterity. But the parallel fails to account for the differences which Paul himself announces. The first Adam was of the earth, earthy, the second Adam was the Lord from heaven. To say that Adam was to merit life in a manner parallel to Christ meriting life is to deny one of the foundations of the Christian faith -- that life comes to us through Christ as God-man. See Larger Catechism, answer 38, on why it was requisite that the Mediator should be God.
 
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