Piper and the Covenant of Works

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Barnpreacher

Puritan Board Junior
Here are Piper's thoughts on the CoW in A Godward Life (p. 172-73):

What made Adam's sin so evil was that God had shown him unmerited favor and offered himself to Adam as an everlasting Father to be trusted in all his counsel for Adam's good. The command was that Adam trust God's goodness. Adam's test was whether he would prove the trustworthiness of God in reckoning God more to be desired than the prospect of Satan's offer. There was no hint that Adam was to earn or deserve. The atmosphere was one of testing faith in unmerited favor, not testing willingness to earn or merit. The command of God was for the obedience that comes from faith...Christ rendered to God the obedience of faith that Adam forsook. He fulfilled the Law perfectly in the way that the Law was meant to be fulfilled from the beginning, not by works, but by faith (Romans 9:32). Thus he obtained life for his people, not by wages, but by fulfilling the covenant conditions of a faithful Son.

I wanted to post those thoughts because I wanted your thoughts on Piper's interpretation of Romans 2:7-10.

What is in question is how the judgment "according to works" here in Romans 2:6-10 fits together with that. I said that, in general, there are two possible answers to this question. One says that eternal life would be based on perfect obedience if anybody had it. But nobody does, and so the only way to eternal life is by faith in Christ. The other way says that God never promised eternal life on the basis of good deeds, but always makes good deeds the evidence of faith that unites us to God in Christ, who is the basis of eternal life.

Let me try to say it another way, using verse 7 in particular. Verse 7 says, "To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, [God will give] eternal life." What does that mean?

The first answer would say, it means that God would give eternal life on the basis of perfect obedience if anybody had it. But nobody does, and so the point of the verse is simply to stress the hopelessness of man without the gospel of grace.

The other answer would say, it means that God does indeed give eternal life to those who persevere in obedience not because this obedience is perfect or because it is the basis or the merit of eternal life, but because saving faith always changes our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit so that true believers persevere in doing good. In other words, a changed life of obedience to God's truth (verse 8) is not the basis of eternal life, but the evidence of authentic faith which unites us to Christ who is the basis of eternal life.

Now, I think this second way of viewing these verses is correct. This is why verse 6 says, "[God] will render to every person according to his deeds," not "on the basis of" his deeds, or "because of the merit of his deeds." Eternal life is always based on Jesus Christ and through our faith. But since faith, by the Holy Spirit, always sanctifies or changes us into the image of Christ (one degree at a time, 2 Corinthians 3:18), there will be deeds that "accord with" this saving faith. So while eternal life will be awarded only to believers, it will be awarded "according to" - there will be an accord with -their deeds. There will be a way of life that God can put on display to demonstrate to the world that this person's faith was real.

Thoughts on Piper's interpretation of this passage?
 

Barnpreacher

Puritan Board Junior
I also understand that Piper is much like Bahnsen on this board in that he's a controversial individual to many. If we can leave aside our personal preferences concerning the individual and deal with his interpretation alone I would be greatly obliged.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
Piper at one time had a great admiration for Daniel Fuller. So this line of thinking doesn't surprise me.

He is wrong on the CofW.

Thanks for sharing that.

Christ earned my salvation by fulfilling the CofW. He regenerated me and gave me faith in Christ's work and person unto salvation.

His CofW is short sighted.

Almost sounds like the CofW that the FV guys hold to. Well it does.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
They make the CofW a covenant of Graciousness instead of a covenant that has a debt attached to it. It messes up the fact that the Messiah had to fulfill the Covenant of Works. It matters in the fact that we are imputed with something that we didn't earn in the beginning but Christ earned it for us.

Nikki this may help a little.

A Working Federal Vision Summary from a 1689er - The PuritanBoard

P.S. I am not saying Piper is headed into Federal Vision problems.
 

danmpem

Puritan Board Junior
I'm a little confused as to what the disagreement could be with what Piper wrote.
 
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Robert Truelove

Puritan Board Sophomore
The problem is that he has a faulty view of the Covenant of Works.

Adam was to 'fulfill all righteousness' by keeping God's law; not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Had Adam passed the test he would have 'merited' (earned) righteousness for both himself and all his posterity.

Remember, we do not speak of the state of Adam before the fall as a state of righteousness (for righteousness is spoken of those who have fulfilled God's law), but a state of innocency. Had Adam passed the test, he would have moved from a state of innocency to a state of righteousness having 'fulfilled the law'.

Christ came, to do for us what Adam failed to do; 'fulfill all righteousness' by keeping the Covenant of Works perfectly (Romans 5).

The Westminster Confession, Chapter 19.1 sums this up...

"I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it."

Piper's position is indeed a step away from historic Reformed orthodoxy in regards to the Covenant of Works. In the posted statement, he denies that Adam was to 'earn' anything; rather he was to trust God when his faith was tested. This position is guilty of conflating the Covenant of Works with the Covenant of Grace in similar manner as the FV advocates [though I am most certain that is not Piper's intent nor am I accusing him of heading in that direction]. It also makes Romans 5 senseless.

To clarify...The correct view of the Covenant of Works is...It was not Adam's faith that was being tested, it was his obedience to God's law while he was in a state of innocency. In failing to do that, Adam earned sin and death for himself and his posterity. Remember, the "wages" (that which we have earned, 'merited') of sin is death.

However, God provided another way to Himself by faith in the person of His Son who succeeded where Adam failed. As Adam failed to merit righteousness for himself and his posterity, Christ succeeded. This is why the active obedience of Christ in fulfilling the law is so important. It is that obedience that is imputed to us by faith just as it is Adam's disobedience that was imputed to us in Original Sin. (again see Romans 5)
 
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toddpedlar

Iron Dramatist
I'm a little confused as to what the disagreement could be with what Piper wrote.


Me too? I dont see any problems in what Piper said. :confused:

The problem is that Piper puts forth Christ as one who satisfied his covenantal obligations as mediator BY FAITH - and not by a perfect, flawless obedience. If Christ satisfied those obligations BY FAITH, as Piper says he did, then how is there any hope for us, and how does our salvation hinge on Christ? He argues in the first quotation that Christ satisfied the Law by faith, and not by the perfection of His obedience. This is a common FV position, and it's surprising to hear it coming from Piper - it also raises a severe problem with salvation by faith. If it was Christ's faith that satisfied what God required of Him, and not his works - if Christ's faith satisfied the Law, then 1) would a few sins here or there have been immaterial for Christ? (obviously not) and 2) Do WE satisfy the Law through our faith? (if so, then Christ is unnecessary) and 3) Given the answers to 1) and 2), how is there any hope for us, since our faith is imperfect?
 

mshingler

Puritan Board Freshman
Somewhat ironically, it sounds to me like there's a certain commonality between Piper's view, here, and that of Arminianism. If I'm not mistaken, at least some forms of Arminianism teach that God accepts our faith in Christ's work in place of perfect obedience to the law.
 

timmopussycat

Puritan Board Junior
Here are Piper's thoughts on the CoW in A Godward Life (p. 172-73):

What made Adam's sin so evil was that God had shown him unmerited favor and offered himself to Adam as an everlasting Father to be trusted in all his counsel for Adam's good. The command was that Adam trust God's goodness. Adam's test was whether he would prove the trustworthiness of God in reckoning God more to be desired than the prospect of Satan's offer. There was no hint that Adam was to earn or deserve. The atmosphere was one of testing faith in unmerited favor, not testing willingness to earn or merit. The command of God was for the obedience that comes from faith...Christ rendered to God the obedience of faith that Adam forsook. He fulfilled the Law perfectly in the way that the Law was meant to be fulfilled from the beginning, not by works, but by faith (Romans 9:32). Thus he obtained life for his people, not by wages, but by fulfilling the covenant conditions of a faithful Son.

I wanted to post those thoughts because I wanted your thoughts on Piper's interpretation of Romans 2:7-10.

What is in question is how the judgment "according to works" here in Romans 2:6-10 fits together with that. I said that, in general, there are two possible answers to this question. One says that eternal life would be based on perfect obedience if anybody had it. But nobody does, and so the only way to eternal life is by faith in Christ. The other way says that God never promised eternal life on the basis of good deeds, but always makes good deeds the evidence of faith that unites us to God in Christ, who is the basis of eternal life.

Let me try to say it another way, using verse 7 in particular. Verse 7 says, "To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, [God will give] eternal life." What does that mean?

The first answer would say, it means that God would give eternal life on the basis of perfect obedience if anybody had it. But nobody does, and so the point of the verse is simply to stress the hopelessness of man without the gospel of grace.

The other answer would say, it means that God does indeed give eternal life to those who persevere in obedience not because this obedience is perfect or because it is the basis or the merit of eternal life, but because saving faith always changes our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit so that true believers persevere in doing good. In other words, a changed life of obedience to God's truth (verse 8) is not the basis of eternal life, but the evidence of authentic faith which unites us to Christ who is the basis of eternal life.

Now, I think this second way of viewing these verses is correct. This is why verse 6 says, "[God] will render to every person according to his deeds," not "on the basis of" his deeds, or "because of the merit of his deeds." Eternal life is always based on Jesus Christ and through our faith. But since faith, by the Holy Spirit, always sanctifies or changes us into the image of Christ (one degree at a time, 2 Corinthians 3:18), there will be deeds that "accord with" this saving faith. So while eternal life will be awarded only to believers, it will be awarded "according to" - there will be an accord with -their deeds. There will be a way of life that God can put on display to demonstrate to the world that this person's faith was real.

Thoughts on Piper's interpretation of this passage?

James reminds us that "we all stumble in many ways" and in my opinion Piper stumbles somewhat here. Those who carelessly read him will conclude that he is denying the concept of the CoW and that this denial will have a domino effect in related areas of theology. What I have found interesting is that, when seen against his writings in other places, Piper is not, in my opinion, so much denying the concept of the CoW as he is, for some reason, denying the label, while adding detail to the concept! I don't understand why he is doing it this way.

For example, in the following passage...

What made Adam's sin so evil was that God had shown him unmerited favor and offered himself to Adam as an everlasting Father to be trusted in all his counsel for Adam's good. The command was that Adam trust God's goodness. Adam's test was whether he would prove the trustworthiness of God in reckoning God more to be desired than the prospect of Satan's offer. There was no hint that Adam was to earn or deserve. The atmosphere was one of testing faith in unmerited favor, not testing willingness to earn or merit. The command of God was for the obedience that comes from faith...Christ rendered to God the obedience of faith that Adam forsook.

...Piper does not simply move from obedience to God's command to faith without obedience as opposite concepts of what was required of Adam by God but from an obedience, the source of which is undefined, to an obedience produced by faith in God. How significant a move is this?

First, the obedence required of Adam in Gen 3. is not so defined in the text. Yet, if we look at the situation Adam was confronted with after Eve ate the fruit, clearly he was confronted with a choice and that choice turned at least partially on who he would trust. If he had obeyed God, implicit in that decision would have been a trust that God's threat of sanctions was true.

Piper's CoW is clearly NOT that of the FV. For his Counted Righteous in Christ is a strong defence of Christ's active obedience which FV denies.

Piper said:
He fulfilled the Law perfectly in the way that the Law was meant to be fulfilled from the beginning, not by works, but by faith (Romans 9:32). Thus he obtained life for his people, not by wages, but by fulfilling the covenant conditions of a faithful Son

Piper is not denying that the Son fulfilled the Law nor that his fulfillment of the Law is imputed to us. Yet he is arguably incorrect that the Son's perfect fulfillment of the law, however achieved, would not "merit" eternal life for himself, a merit which could be imputed to His sheep. For if someone could keep God's law perfectly in life, would not that someone be justified in claiming the wage of eternal life from God? The only part of WCF 19:1 that Piper denies is the clause: "as a covenant of works." In Piper's thinking his position certainly does not make Rom. 5: senseless (see his sermons on Rom. 5:12 ff at the Desiring God website or the relevant sections of Counted Righteous). Piper does not deny that Adam's fall merited death, nor, as noted above does he deny that Christ's active obedience fulfills the law and is imputed to us.

The problem is that Piper puts forth Christ as one who satisfied his covenantal obligations as mediator BY FAITH - and not by a perfect, flawless obedience.

Piper nowhere asserts that Christ's obedience to the Law was less than perfect, only that it was achieved by faith. Had he more carefully made the point in the above passage that the Son's obedience to the law was what achieved our reconciliation and that his total and perfect faith was the means by which he did it, there would have been no confusion.

Somewhat ironically, it sounds to me like there's a certain commonality between Piper's view, here, and that of Arminianism. If I'm not mistaken, at least some forms of Arminianism teach that God accepts our faith in Christ's work in place of perfect obedience to the law.

And I hope Calvinists teach that Christ's work achieves perfect obedience to the Law for the elect, for if it doesn't, we are all damned.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Merit

Another problem here is the definition of merit. There are three kinds of merit: condign, which means that the action deserves the result. An example would be that if a person pays a certain amount of money for a car, he receives the car. The action required to secure the possession of the car IS that payment of money.

The second kind of merit is congruent merit. This can be defined as merit that doesn't quite measure up to condign merit and "needs a little help." In other words, if a person goes most of the way, then someone else will finish up for that person. The action required still corresponds to the result. It is as if someone could not quite pay the full amount for the car. It is "partial credit." Reformed folk do not hold to this kind of merit anywhere in theology.

The third kind of merit is usually described as "improper," because it doesn't work like the first two kinds of merit. This is "pactum merit," or "covenantal merit." This refers to an action that does not, in and of itself, deserve the reward, but will obtain the reward because the people involved have agreed that it will. For instance, a father can say, "If you earn a 4.0 grade point average all through high school, I will buy you a car." Obviously, a 4.0 grade point average would not work as a bargaining tool in the car shop, if the son were to take that to the car-salesman! However, the father and the child have agreed that the action (which could be required by the father anyway) will result in a certain reward. This is the kind of merit that Adam would have had in obtaining eternal life, the glorified state.

Reformed theologians also refer to Christ's work as condign and pactum merit. It is condign because Christ's obedience was perfect, and the law says, "Do this, and you shall live." Christ did it, and all who are in Him live. His condign merit is imputed to us by the instrumentality of faith. But the Father and the Son also agreed in eternity that the Son would do this, so it has that aspect of pactum merit, though not the improper aspect (since the action measures up precisely to the consequence).

Now, in Piper's formulation, he wants to make sure that Adam would not have earned or merited God's favor. If he is rejecting condign merit, fine. So do most theologians. Hardly any theologians today assert that Adam would have merited eternal life by condign merit, since he owed that obedience to God anyway. However, God, by grace, promised that this obedience, which was owed to him anyway, would be the instrument by which Adam would obtain the glorified state (which he did NOT possess at creation. Otherwise, he would be immutably sinless, rather than mutably sinless).

However, Piper's formulation seems to reject any kind of merit, proper or improper. I would therefore disagree with Piper's formulation. By the way, Turretin discusses all this in his Institutes.
 

Barnpreacher

Puritan Board Junior
Another problem here is the definition of merit. There are three kinds of merit: condign, which means that the action deserves the result. An example would be that if a person pays a certain amount of money for a car, he receives the car. The action required to secure the possession of the car IS that payment of money.

The second kind of merit is congruent merit. This can be defined as merit that doesn't quite measure up to condign merit and "needs a little help." In other words, if a person goes most of the way, then someone else will finish up for that person. The action required still corresponds to the result. It is as if someone could not quite pay the full amount for the car. It is "partial credit." Reformed folk do not hold to this kind of merit anywhere in theology.

The third kind of merit is usually described as "improper," because it doesn't work like the first two kinds of merit. This is "pactum merit," or "covenantal merit." This refers to an action that does not, in and of itself, deserve the reward, but will obtain the reward because the people involved have agreed that it will. For instance, a father can say, "If you earn a 4.0 grade point average all through high school, I will buy you a car." Obviously, a 4.0 grade point average would not work as a bargaining tool in the car shop, if the son were to take that to the car-salesman! However, the father and the child have agreed that the action (which could be required by the father anyway) will result in a certain reward. This is the kind of merit that Adam would have had in obtaining eternal life, the glorified state.

Reformed theologians also refer to Christ's work as condign and pactum merit. It is condign because Christ's obedience was perfect, and the law says, "Do this, and you shall live." Christ did it, and all who are in Him live. His condign merit is imputed to us by the instrumentality of faith. But the Father and the Son also agreed in eternity that the Son would do this, so it has that aspect of pactum merit, though not the improper aspect (since the action measures up precisely to the consequence).

Now, in Piper's formulation, he wants to make sure that Adam would not have earned or merited God's favor. If he is rejecting condign merit, fine. So do most theologians. Hardly any theologians today assert that Adam would have merited eternal life by condign merit, since he owed that obedience to God anyway. However, God, by grace, promised that this obedience, which was owed to him anyway, would be the instrument by which Adam would obtain the glorified state (which he did NOT possess at creation. Otherwise, he would be immutably sinless, rather than mutably sinless).

However, Piper's formulation seems to reject any kind of merit, proper or improper. I would therefore disagree with Piper's formulation. By the way, Turretin discusses all this in his Institutes.

Very helpful post. Thanks for taking the time to type out those illustrations of merit.
 
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Robert Truelove

Puritan Board Sophomore
Wow Lane!

You have summed up key points regarding merit which generally takes the reading of several theological volumes to come to an understanding.

I have always felt that we need more succinct, pamphlet sized articles dealing with different aspects of Reformed theology. Having the propositions stated simply up front sure does make one's initial reading of works from theological giants like Turretin much more profitable.

I appreciate your post.

Another problem here is the definition of merit. There are three kinds of merit: condign, which means that the action deserves the result. An example would be that if a person pays a certain amount of money for a car, he receives the car. The action required to secure the possession of the car IS that payment of money.

The second kind of merit is congruent merit. This can be defined as merit that doesn't quite measure up to condign merit and "needs a little help." In other words, if a person goes most of the way, then someone else will finish up for that person. The action required still corresponds to the result. It is as if someone could not quite pay the full amount for the car. It is "partial credit." Reformed folk do not hold to this kind of merit anywhere in theology.

The third kind of merit is usually described as "improper," because it doesn't work like the first two kinds of merit. This is "pactum merit," or "covenantal merit." This refers to an action that does not, in and of itself, deserve the reward, but will obtain the reward because the people involved have agreed that it will. For instance, a father can say, "If you earn a 4.0 grade point average all through high school, I will buy you a car." Obviously, a 4.0 grade point average would not work as a bargaining tool in the car shop, if the son were to take that to the car-salesman! However, the father and the child have agreed that the action (which could be required by the father anyway) will result in a certain reward. This is the kind of merit that Adam would have had in obtaining eternal life, the glorified state.

Reformed theologians also refer to Christ's work as condign and pactum merit. It is condign because Christ's obedience was perfect, and the law says, "Do this, and you shall live." Christ did it, and all who are in Him live. His condign merit is imputed to us by the instrumentality of faith. But the Father and the Son also agreed in eternity that the Son would do this, so it has that aspect of pactum merit, though not the improper aspect (since the action measures up precisely to the consequence).

Now, in Piper's formulation, he wants to make sure that Adam would not have earned or merited God's favor. If he is rejecting condign merit, fine. So do most theologians. Hardly any theologians today assert that Adam would have merited eternal life by condign merit, since he owed that obedience to God anyway. However, God, by grace, promised that this obedience, which was owed to him anyway, would be the instrument by which Adam would obtain the glorified state (which he did NOT possess at creation. Otherwise, he would be immutably sinless, rather than mutably sinless).

However, Piper's formulation seems to reject any kind of merit, proper or improper. I would therefore disagree with Piper's formulation. By the way, Turretin discusses all this in his Institutes.
 

timmopussycat

Puritan Board Junior
Another problem here is the definition of merit. There are three kinds of merit: snip...

The third kind of merit is usually described as "improper," because it doesn't work like the first two kinds of merit. This is "pactum merit," or "covenantal merit." This refers to an action that does not, in and of itself, deserve the reward, but will obtain the reward because the people involved have agreed that it will. ....
Reformed theologians also refer to Christ's work as condign and pactum merit. It is condign because Christ's obedience was perfect, and the law says, "Do this, and you shall live." Christ did it, and all who are in Him live. His condign merit is imputed to us by the instrumentality of faith. But the Father and the Son also agreed in eternity that the Son would do this, so it has that aspect of pactum merit, though not the improper aspect (since the action measures up precisely to the consequence).

Now, in Piper's formulation, he wants to make sure that Adam would not have earned or merited God's favor. If he is rejecting condign merit, fine.
snip....
However, Piper's formulation seems to reject any kind of merit, proper or improper. I would therefore disagree with Piper's formulation.

Although at first glance, Piper's formulation seems to reject all concepts of merit, his use of the active obedience of Christ necessarily implies the concepts of Christ's codign and pactum merit are involved even though Piper doesn't use those labels.
 
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