Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | April 9, 2007

Covenant of Works?

We’ve been exposed to some interesting ideas in the last few days on this blog.  Not that these ideas are new, but they are new to the author.  Essentially, it is the denial that Christ fulfilled the Covenant of Works (CoW) on our behalf.  The timing, however could not have been more impeccable due to our current reading assignment of Kingdom Prologue by Meredith Kline.  As a result, we could not resist the opportunity to write on this topic and share some thoughts from the book.  The following is an enlightening passage relative to the subject: 


“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). There was a first man Adam and a first covenant of works.  And for the redemption of the lost world there is a second and last Adam, the Adam from heaven (cf. Cor 15:45-49), and another covenant of works.  Kingdom Prologue, p 138


It is apparent from the section cited above that Kline is one who defends the fact that Christ fulfilled the CoW.  In a previous section of the book, he lays out a more formidable defense against those who deny the CoW all together.  It probably would be more appropriate to appeal to those sections in this topic, however the following passage especially struck a cord that deniers of Christ’s fulfillment of the CoW seem to be missing:


Jesus’ life is portrayed as a mission.  His very identity as Messiah involved commissioning and his messianic consciousness was revealed in statements reflecting his awareness of having been sent by the Father on a special mission with a commandment to obey (John 10:18), a righteousness to fulfill (Matt 3:15), a baptism to be suffered (Luke 12:50), and a work to finish (John 17:4).  This special mission of the Son is interpreted in the New Testament within the context of various covenants.  When the fullness of time was come, he was sent by God as one under law (Gal 4:4), as the Servant of the Lord prophesied by Isaiah (cf. Isa 42; 49; 50; 52-53), and thus as the true Israel, the true covenant servant that Israel failed to be.  Indeed, covenant sums up the mission of the Isaianic Servant (Isa 42:6; 49:8).  Or again, as we have seen, Jesus was sent forth as another Adam, to be the obedient covenant servant that the first Adam failed to be.  Kingdom Prologue, p 139


What was especially striking about this quote was the reference to Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  To elaborate and be more specific on what we believe is significant it would be appropriate to put this reference in context: 

Galatians 4:3-7:  In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

 The significant item is the reference to the law in this passage.  What law is Paul talking about?  It is appropriate to say that our Lord was born under the Mosaic law, however is it also appropriate to extend this law to those in Galatia?  It is safe to assume that not all of the believers in Galatia were Jews, hence the Judaizers imposing circumcision on the Galatian gentiles.  It is also safe to assume that the statement “to redeem those who were under law” would apply to all Christians, which the majority are comprised of gentiles.  So is it right then to say that we gentiles were born under the law of Moses?  If this is not the Mosaic law could it be a reference to the CoW? 

One more item not necessarily related to Kline, although I think I remember him referring to Isaiah 24:5.  The question is what is the eternal covenant referenced in this passage.  I would and have (see my exegetical paper on this passage to support the thought) argued that this is a reference to the CoW, which is still in affect today.


And before we end today, it wouldn’t be complete unless we appealed to one of our favorite theologians on this site for support, John Calvin.  In his Institutes Calvin states the following:


The second requirement of our reconciliation with God was this: that man, who by his disobedience had become lost, should by way of remedy counter it with obedience, satisfy God’s judgment, and pay the penalties for sin.  Accordingly, our Lord came forth as true man and took the person and the name of Adam in order to take Adam’s place in obeying the Father, to present our flesh as the price of satisfaction to God’s righteous judgment, and, in the same flesh, to pay the penalty that we had deserved.  II.XII.3

Hence, Christ fulfilled the CoW in our place.



  1. Thanks for posting this Mike. It does me good to hear sense being talked, given all the nonsense I’ve been dealing with the past few weeks.

    However, after such an intensive immersion experience, I feel compelled to play Frank Valenti‘s advocate, and let you know what I am sure FV’s objections to you (and Kline) would be.

    The bread and butter of this argument is whether CoW=Law. No sensible reformed person would say the Law is gone — it just has a different function. WCF XIX says that for Adam, the law was “as a covenant of works” to Adam, but in the covenant of grace, “true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned, yet is it of great use to them…as a rule of life…“. So because of our situation in the new covenant (where we have Law, but we don’t have Cow) you can’t just say “here I see the law, therefore here I see the CoW”. The question is what happens in between. What does “Mosaic republication of the CoW” mean? How do we know that when Jesus obeyed and fulfilled the Law, that he was in a CoW?

    Your point about Gal 4:4 is an excellent one; clearly “law” there cannot be referring only to Moses. But why does it have to be CoW?

    More to the point, even Kline attributes to Jesus “another covenant of works”. Entry to the Adamic CoW is by natural descent from Adam, and that’s the point of the virgin birth. It exempts Jesus from original sin — but by the same logic, doesn’t it also exempt him from membership in the covenant of works which brought sin?

    Valenti’s Advocacy over now: it seems to me that this is the game they (or at least he) plays. In biology, when you raise the temperature of DNA, the two parallel strands which are in a double-helix separate into individual strands (which can each then recreate their own mate from raw amino acid materials –> hence the exponential growth of the Polymerase Chain Reaction). This process of separating is called “denaturing”

    –Tangent. My point is that FV similarly presses on the distinction between Law and CoW, in order to denature them, with the end goal of preserving law from the destruction of the covenant of works. But this denaturing actually does more than separate, it changes the nature of CoW and Law and their relationship. This is how, (as Kline ably explains) “An approach that starts out by claiming that a works principle operates nowhere ends up with a kind of works principle everywhere.”

    “Let’s not talk about merit” (sez FV) “God’s love can’t be earned. There’s no covenant of works. Oh, but by the way, we got plenty of LAW for you. But it’s not a covenant of works. It’s all part of the covenant of grace, which has covenantal conditions like all biblical covenants, and which you better keep, or you’ll get cut off. But it’s not a covenant of works. Trust me.”

    By doing this, FV gives to the CoG the nature of a CoW; for them, the CoG includes both “done” and “do this and live; fail and die”. They have denatured the CoG. How unnatural!

  2. Stupid Federal Vision. Always ruining everything.

    Christ is our only hope. He is our righteousness.


  3. Okay Frank Valenti’s Advocate,

    “But why does it have to be CoW?”

    Is there another option? What other law could we gentiles be born under?

    “God’s love can’t be earned…”

    Kline has a perfect quote in response to this:

    “Indeed, the principle of works forms the foundation of the gospel of grace. If meritorious works could not be predicated of Jesus Christ as second Adam, then obviously there would be no meritorious achievement to be imputed to his people as the ground of their justification-approbation. The gospel invitation would turn out be a mirage. We who have believed on Christ would still be under condemnation. The gospel truth, however, is that Christ has performed the one act of righteousness and by this obedience of the one the many are made righteous (Rom 5:18-19). In his probationary obedience the Redeemer gained the merit which is transferred to the account of the elect. Underlying Christ’s mediatorship of a covenant of grace for the salvation of believers is his earthly fulfillment, through meritorious obedience, of his heavenly covenant of works with the Father. Since the works principle is thus foundational to the gospel, the repudiation of that principle – in particular, the denial of the possibility of meritorious works where paternal love is involved (as it certainly is in the relation of the Father and the Son) – stands condemned as subversive of that gospel. What begins as a rejection of works ends up as an attack, however unintentional, on the biblical message of saving grace. Moreover, in the attributing of diabolical pride to the one who thinks to do something deserving of the reward of the kingdom of glory there is, in effect, a blasphemous assault on the religious integrity of Jesus himself. For Jesus, the second Adam, regarded his works as meritorious… (John 17:4,5; Phil 2:8,9)” Kingdom Prologue p 108 and 109

    What does “Mosaic republication of the CoW” mean?

    In class this Wednesday we heard a good explanation given by Charles Hodge:

    Beside this evangelical character which unquestionably belongs to the Mosaic covenant, it is presented in two other aspects in the Word of God. First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect it was a legal covenant. It said, “Do this and live.” Secondly, it contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works. It is as true now as in the days of Adam, it always has been and always must be true, that rational creatures who perfectly obey the law of God are blessed in the enjoyment of his favour; and that those who sin are subject to his wrath and curse. Our Lord assured the young man who came to Him for instruction that is he kept the commandments he should live. And Paul says (Rom 2:6) that God will render to every man according to his deeds; tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory, honour, and peace to every man who worketh good. This arises from the relation of intelligent creatures to God. It is in fact nothing but a declaration of the eternal and immutable principles of justice. If a man rejects or neglects the gospel, these are the principles, as Paul teaches in the opening chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, according to which he will be judged. If he will not be under grace, if he will not accede to the method of salvation by grace, he is of necessity under the law. These different aspects under which the Mosaic economy is presented account for the apparently inconsistent way in which it is spoken of in the New Testament. (1) When viewed in relation to the people of God before the advent, it is represented as divine and obligatory. (2) When viewed in relation to the state of the Church after the advent, it is declared to be obsolete. It is represented as the lifeless husk from which the living kernel and germ have been extracted, a body from which the soul has departed. (3) When viewed according to its true import and design as a preparatory dispensation of the covenant of grace, it is spoken of as teaching the same gospel, the same method of salvation as that which the Apostles themselves preached. (4) When viewed, in the light in which it was regarded by those who rejected the gospel, as a mere legal system, it was declared to be a ministration of death and condemnation (2 Cor 3:6-18). (5) And when contrasted with the new or Christian economy, as a different mode of revealing the same covenant, it is spoken of as a state of tutelage and bondage, far different from the freedom and filial spirit of the dispensation under which we no live. Systematic Theology Vol II p 375-376

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: