The Law and Covenant Theology

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Puritan Board Junior
In the midst of being newly married, in college full time, and working most of the week, I have been reading the occasional article of covenant theology. Since my church is newly reforming out of a 1st Baptist SBC and I come from a dispensational background I was hoping the some of you with more experience in the area of covenant theology could critique my progress in the area of the law and how it relates to us now. I know there are different views on the Law--Covenantal Reformed Baptist, Traditional Reformed, and Theonomist--so if you could identify your view and tell me what side you think I fall on it would help me out.

My understanding of the moral law is that it is an expression of the natural law—the law that all of mankind is under because of the covenant of works. The aspects of the Mosaic Law that deal with theocracy and ceremony are no longer binding. They serve to reveal to us the character of God and his purpose in Christ, but we are not to live under them. Since the covenant of works exists today alongside the covenant of grace and Moses’ moral law is an expression of the covenant of works, then it is applicable to those in the new covenant (not the moral living justifies,but that obedience shows our allegiance to Christ and is a natural result of the Spirit’s work in regeneration).



Puritan Board Doctor
The aspects of the Mosaic Law that deal with theocracy and ceremony are no longer binding.

They aren't binding because they are not the moral law itself, but there are certainly moral and practical principles embedded in these aspects of the law that we need to take note of. See the WCF on these and accompanying texts. Which is also where the "theonomy" debate comes in. How much can we learn from the civil law without making important and appropriate changes for our situation in the New Covenant?

E.g. the food laws don't bind us but may teach us, without observing them, about ingesting moral filth, and about how close our fellowship with unbelievers should be. The criminal penal case laws may give guidance mutatis mutandis i.e. paradigmatically, concerning what gross, presumptious and flagrant offences should suffer church sanctions, and mutatis mutandis i.e. paradigmatically, concerning what offences a modern Christian state should take cognizance of. There are exegetical reasons why we may believe that the modern Christian state is not obliged to have the death penalty on its books as a possibility for the gross breach of 9 of the 10C.

Since the covenant of works exists today alongside the covenant of grace and Moses’ moral law is an expression of the covenant of works,

This sounds like Republicationism. There are problems with the RoCoW idea that are currently being addressed by people like Cornelis Venema. See the relevant section. AFAIAC, Moses law is a republication of the moral law not the CoW.

It's true that all men broke the CoW in Adam and - if they are not saved in the womb like John the Baptist - are born in a deep spiritual sense under the broken CoW. If they are born in a Christian family, or otherwise come under the influence of the CoG as unbelievers, they are brought within the administration of the CoG, in order that they may be moved from a state of spiritual bondage to the CoW. The same I believe was true of the Israelites.

I think the idea that the CoW was republished at Sinai alongside the CoG, unecessarily complicates things. There may have been a hypothetical and not real presentation of the CoW at some points in the Torah, just as Jesus did with the Rich Young Ruler. But Jesus wasn't encoraging the man to get saved by works, which would have been a RoCoW, but was encouraging him to seek to get saved by grace by presenting the CoW hypothetically as a busted flush for sinners since the Fall.

The idea that the typological teaching aid, that Israelites could be wiped off the Land as individuals or collectively, was "in some sense" a RoCoW doesn't hold water. God was dealing with sinners at Sinai, not sinless Men like Adam or Jesus. If the Israelites had been successful in avoiding typological excommunication by death or exile, it would have all been of God's grace (common and saving) to sinners. It was of God's grace that the Old Covenant people reached the levels of godliness they did and avoided death and exile to the extent they did.

If the Old Covenant appears less gracious to us than the New, that is because it was tailored to the situation of the under age Church. Grace was behind it all.

but that obedience shows our allegiance to Christ and is a natural result of the Spirit’s work in regeneration

This is not to do with the CoW, but shows that we have invisibly moved from the broken CoW to the CoG, as well as being under the visible administration of the CoG. We are always under the law as a rule and pattern of life, but no longer as the means of salvation/condemnation.

R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
Westminster Confession of Faith ch 19

3. Beside this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits;d and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties.e All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.f
(d) Heb 10:1; Gal 4:1-3; Col 2:17; Heb 9:1-28
(e) Lev 19:9-10,19,23,27; Deut 24:19-21; 1 Cor 5:7; 2 Cor 6:17; Jude 23
(f) Col 2:14,16-17; Dan 9:27; Eph 2:15-16; Heb 9:10; Acts 10:9-16; Acts 11:2-10
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4. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.g
(g) Exod 21:1-23:19; Gen 49:10; 1 Pet 2:13-14; 1 Cor 9:8-10

5. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof;h and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it.i Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.k

---------- Post added at 01:39 PM ---------- Previous post was at 01:32 PM ----------

See also the resource page here:

Westminster Seminary California clark


The Bookstore at WSC: Introducing Covenant Theology (Paperback) by Horton, Michael S.


Puritan Board Doctor
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

Passages such as this - and others in Paul - indicate that after regeneration, the believer is no longer under the law as a broken CoW.

On the other hand, passages such as this in Paul, and other NT and OT passages, indicate that the believer is still under the moral law as a rule and pattern of life:

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. (I Cor 9:21, ESV)

but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.(Deut. 5:10, ESV)
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.(John 14:15, ESV)

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."(John 14:21, ESV)

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.(John 15:10, ESV)

I recently got more help on this subject by reading


which book sets out very clearly the difference between being under grace and under the law as a CoW very clearly, and the difference between someone who sins while under grace, and someone who sins while under in the broken CoW, while emphasising the fact that the believer is under the law as a rule of life.

Boston's notes in this book are extremely profitable, while raising the other subject of whether Sinai was ''in some sense'' a RoCoW.

Boston appears to believe it was ''in some sense'' a RoCoW, whereas others such as John Murray, didn't. Which subject is currently the object of much debate among Covenant Theologians, as has been already mentioned. See the relevant section of the PB.


Puritan Board Junior
I'm reading through Micheal Horton's Covenant Theology book with my wife, it's proving o be useful. Good point about the believer being taken from the CoW into the CoG, Richard. Thanks for all the input! I'll continue my studies on this topic.
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