Republication of the Covenant of Works (2)

re-post from May 07. Part 1 is here.

As a follow up to the post of 16 January of this year. We’re discussing the doctrine of the “republication” of the covenant of works at the Puritanboard. Kevin asked about a quotation from Samuel Rutherford which seems to deny any possibility of republication:

Samuel Rutherford, said it this way, in his book, The Covenant of Life Opened, “But the truth is, the Law as pressed upon Israel was not a Covenant of Works. The law as the Law or as a Covenant of Works is made with perfect men who need no mercy; But this covenant is made with sinners, with an express preface of mercy, I am the Lord thy God that brought thee out of the land of Egypt, &c. It is made with stiff-necked Israel Deut. 29 Deut 30.c. 31. c. 32. and that is called a covenant from the end and object, as motions are denominate from their end: for the end of the Lords pressing the law upon them was to bring them under a blessed necessity to seek salvation in their true city of Refuge Christ Jesus, who redeemed them out of spiritual bondage of sin.”

To which I respond (with some minor modification):

It depends upon which use of the covenant of works is in view. It was widely (and rightly) held that the covenant of works was abrogated as an actual way of justification for sinners. When the older theologians spoke of republication I understand them to have been saying that the covenant of works was republished in the pedagogical use of the law to teach Israel the greatness of his sin and misery and drive him to faith in Christ. Thus, by “republication,” they were saying the same thing Rutherford is saying in substance. Given the sense in which Rutherford used “covenant of works” (as in WCF ch 7 and ch 19)

I think we agree that the fall creates a major in change in the way Israel could relate to the law.

Clearly other writers in the same period did speak of republication of the covenant of works. Indeed, it’s republication was a major proof of the initial covenant of works. It’s always, however, mutatis mutandis – with the changes having been changed.

I’m proposing that, because of her one-off, absolutely unique, typological, temporary, national covenant status, Israel had an additional, typological relation to the law relative to the land. As I tell our congregation, national Israel was a sermon illustration. Israel’s relation to the land was a great drama and the formal, legal basis for his forfeiture of the national covenant was disobedience grounded in unbelief.

Israel was under a typological, not soteriological covenant of works. It’s a post-lapsarian, typological covenant of works.

I think all civil entities are in an analogous covenant of works. I may be merciful to the city and not prosecute them for their every failure to discharge their duties, and a cop may let me drive 40 in a 35, but we could and do sometimes hold each other accountable on a works basis. If the city’s failures become chronic, I take them to court. If I don’t mow my yard, the city fines me and I have to pay up or go to jail. Now, is my relation to the city legal or gracious? Well, it’s merciful (but not gracious — it is withholding punishment but not imputing righteousness) right up to the point it isn’t any more and I go off to jail or they have to begin performing their duties.

That’s something like the way national Israel related to the covenant of works relative to their national status. In strict justice, God might have executed the sanctions of the covenant of works immediately against Israel but, for the purposes of the giant, historical, temporary, sermon illustration, he was gracious. Nevertheless, the type of covenant under which Israel lived as national entity was formally legal, it was a suzerain-vassal treaty. Those same families also lived under a royal grant covenant that was wholly gracious relative to salvation and justification.

This is a good way to account for all of the conditional legal language found throughout the Pentateuch and for the conditional language inherent in the 10 words themselves: “that your days may be long in the land…”

The national, legal covenant was a ritual. Jesus ritually re-enacted at least aspects of Israel’s history. Unlike Israel, Yahweh’s adopted son, the true Son Jesus did meet the qualifications to be under a covenant of works. Israel was 40 years in the desert, Jesus was 40 days (without food). Israel gave in to temptation to grumble, Jesus did not. Jesus was the true Israel. He went down to Egypt and “out of Egypt have I called my Son” (Matt 2). Israel (like Adam) polluted God’s holy temple, but Jesus sanctified it and chased the devil out (twice!). Israel (like Adam) made false covenants with the nations and went after their gods. Jesus kept covenant with his father and called the nations to repent and believe. He fulfilled not only the terms of the covenant of works with Adam (as the last Adam) and the terms of the pactum salutis (John 17) but also the terms of the national covenant. He kept the law, he served and loved God with all his faculties and his neighbor as himself. He obeyed and offered a right sacrifice.

One other thing. I keep hearing that Meredith Kline invented the doctrine of republication. In a word: nonsense. He modified it but he did not invent it. Just recently someone wrote to me with a post that credited WSC with inventing the doctrine of the covenant of works too! (So, WSC faculty were the pseudonymous authors of Oecolampadius’ theology, of Ursinus’ Summa theologiae, Wollebius’ Compendium, and WCF chapters 7 and 19?) Richard posted this nice bit from Hodge (who also antedates MGK and WSC):

It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one his natural descendants through Isaac, were constituted a commonwealth, an external community; by the other his spiritual descendants were constituted into a church, [invisible of course, since, at that time, the only formal organization was that of the law.] The parties to the former covenant, were God, and the nation; to the other, God, and his true people. The promises of the national covenant, were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant (i.e. the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, as reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant [the old] were circumcision, and obedience to the law; the conditions of the other were, and ever have been, faith in the Messiah, as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, [that is, the old covenant with the new] and the commonwealth founded on the one, with the church founded on the other. When Christ came, the commonwealth was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The church [now made visible] remained. There was no external covenant, nor promise of external blessings, on condition of external rites, and subjection. There was a spiritual society, with spiritual promises, on condition of faith in Christ.” “The church is, therefore, in its essential nature, a company of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership. (Princeton Review, October, 1853)

Part three is here.

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  1. Thanks Dr. Clark. I needed some help during that heated discussion. Great thoughts. I agree entirely.

  2. How these views–of Hodge in particular–don’t surrender the fort to the baptists, I don’t see. This is a similar view of the covenants touted by our friend Randy at the PB, which he gets from Coxe (republished in a book that also excerpts JOwen related to the subject).

    The only difference that I see is that these “covenant baptists” shove the two-fold nature of God’s covenant dealings back from Sinai to the days of Abraham. After all, he was the first to get the sign of circumcision…

    Heard another baptist opine, with some cleverness, that Kline (whom he greatly admires) would have become a baptist, he just didn’t live long enough–but his trajectory was sure.

    That eventuation IMHO is doubtful, nevertheless, there is no denying that for presbyterians/reformed to disentangle such “elements” of the Mosaic economy as to clean separate a ritual covenant–intended as pure ritual and works, instead of a kind of typological overlay of gaudy externals intended to blind those who only partook of the external administration (2 Cor 3:7, 13)–gives the baptist exactly the kind of wiggle-room some of them are only too happy to make use of.

    I don’t think these folks are entirely misappropriating Kline’s developments. Maybe you could have an interesting discussion with Renihan, RSC. And how strange would it be to see DTS next metamorphosize (from progressive dispensationalism, into…?) into a Klinean-covenantal-baptist institution! Why not? They’re heading somewhere….

  3. I think what Bruce may be seeing–which I think I just saw, as well–is that Hodge teaches two things here which are very amenable to Baptist theology.

    Firstly, he abolishes the commonwealth and makes the church visible. The result of this is to equate visible and invisible churches in a way that Baptists would do. This surrenders Westminster’s view of the visible church as consisting of “believers and their children.”

    Secondly, he ascribes circumcision entirely to the covenant of law which has ceased. This, of course, Baptists do so that they may claim that baptism is an entirely new ordinance under a new administration, and that therefore infants are not to be baptised. If I were convinced that circumcision had been abrogated, and baptism instituted as an entirely new ordinance, then I would (still) be a Baptist.

    Funnily enough, when I read that Hodge quote, I recalled McComiskey’s book (“Covenants of Promise”), which I read a few years ago. Checking around, though, I dug up a review by Kline in which it’s quite evident that he *really* doesn’t like McComiskey’s scheme, which separates out the promises in the Abrahamic covenant in much the same way as Hodge did in that quote. It’s an interesting failure in transitivity of the operation “likes”.

  4. RSC,
    You’re keying in on something I didn’t even say, and passing over what I did say. Surely you can see I’m not talking about a mere distinction between the earthly type and spiritual reality. We ref/presb are all about affirming the difference, and emphasizing an inseparable connection–especially when it comes to Abraham.

    Kline moves up one major step from Abraham to Moses, and along with the progress in revelation, in the process institutes a marked cleavage between type and shadow, an actual works-covenant. Instead of that inseparable connection, we get his “upper register,” we get two layers of operation. He’s made the type so real it has its own substance!

    Then the baptist steps in and says, “Hey, wait a minute, if you can do it there, I can do the same thing back here.” And just that quick, he has Abraham involved in two distinct and covenants, not just a single covenant with distinctions.

    I’m not “making this stuff up,” it really is happening. Now the question is: how will it be addressed by Kline’s devotes? I don’t even have to be right on every point about the benefits or detriments of MGK’s contributions just to point out the existence of these connections. I think I would be happy to understand exactly how the baptist gains no ground thereby. I just don’t want to be obliged to master MGK’s quantum-covenant theology to do so. Has he really advanced us beyond the “Newtonian” version?

    It’s confusing trying to answer a baptist who looks at you with a straight face and says, “If YOU only understood covenant theology, you’d realize I’m right. What don’t you understand about the eschatological prologue and intrusion ethics? I don’t have time to explain covenant theology to presbyterian beginners.” These days are already upon us.

    Believe me, I understand certain things are incumbent upon me as a presbyter, trying to keep current. But part of the challenge is trying to tell the difference between what is new and helpful to the church, and that which is new and distracting.

    FWIW I think MGK was a brilliant theoretical theologian. Doesn’t mean he was always pointed in the right direction. But the 20th century was full of brilliant men, in all the sciences, who gave us as their lasting lifetime contribution one diamond sparkler, if that.

    In conservative, reformed theology we keep trying to make “our favorite professor” into the second coming of Calvin. So we have Klineans, Rushdoonyites, Vantillians, RScottClarkians (oops, there’s only one of me I think that hardly makes a movement), Fullerites, CFHHenriettas, BillyGrahmcrackers, Bahnsenburners, etc. I think people will still be reading EJYoung’s commentaries when the other bright lights’ glow has mostly faded.


  5. Bruce,

    Why do you ignore the fact that some version of republication has been taught since the 17th century?

    I have no idea what the upper register has to do with republication. You’ve lost me. I try t reply to arguments when I can understand them, but what the baptists have to do with the covenant of works, I have no idea.

    Why is it so hard to see this when the old Reformed routinely appealed to the Mosaic covenant as an illustration of the covenant of works? They used it as a proof of the covenant of works.

    Why try to defeat a doctrine by tying it to MKG when it was taught by Reformed folks centuries before MGK? Thomas Boston and Charles Hodge were neither Baptists nor Meredith Kline. I really don’t get it.

  6. Philip,

    I don’t see how distinguishing the visible church from the invisible church helps the Baptists at all! That’s exactly what they don’t do. All Hodge is saying, and he’s perfectly right to say it, is that God made a temporary, national covenant. That temporary national covenant expired. The spiritual covenant, the covenant of grace, does not expire. The covenant of grace was temporarily administered through and alongside a national covenant.

    The visible/invisible or internal/external distinction is essential to Reformed theology. Without it we get the FV and the Baptist error — they both effectively reject, in different ways and for different reasons, the distinction. The Baptists conflate the visible and invisible churches by trying to achieve an eschatological visible church in the semi-eschatological age. The FV rejects the distinction and makes everyone in the visible covenant temporarily, historically elect.

    Like Paul, the Reformed faith recognizes that there are those in the covenant of grace only visibly and those who have possession (or who will come into possession) of the substance of the covenant of grace.

    The Mosaic covenant, insofar as it was a distinct covenant, was a national, external, temporary covenant. At the same time, however, the spiritual, internal, Abrahamic covenant of grace continued and those in the Mosaic covenant who were elect, were also children of Abraham as well as children of Moses.

    God said to Moses: I will be a God to you and to your children. Adding a visible national, temporary covenant to that immutable spiritual covenant (which was repeated in Acts 2:39 – “For the promise is to you and to your children”) does not change that promise. The national, temporary, land promises were administered through Moses and expired when Jesus, the true Israel went down to Egypt, came up out of Egypt, obeyed God as the Israel of God, the natural (not adopted) Son and as the 2nd Adam.

    When Jesus was crucified, the Mosaic covenant was crucified with him. Seems to me that’s what Paul says in Colossians.

    Does this mean that we lose the decalogue and a reign of antinomianism is unleashed? No. That’s the beautiful thing about the Reformed faith. We don’t ground the decalogue purely in Moses! We ground it in nature. That’s why VanDrunen’s work on natural law is so important and useful. That’s why Barth’s and the theonomic/reconstructionist rejection of natural law is do damaging to Reformed Christianity. The substance of the decalogue persists because it is natural. The land promises and saturday sabbath expired with Moses but the promise of heaven and the Christian sabbath persist because we live in a semi-eschatological age. The consummation is not here yet.

    This is why the older Reformed theologians appealed to republication to prove the pre-lapsarian covenant of works; not relative to justification or salvation but relative to the national covenant. The national covenant illustrates the covenant of works. If there could be a temporary, legal, national covenant, mutatis mutandis post lapsum then there could be a pre-lapsarian covenant of works.

    I find it odd that those who position themselves as staunch defenders of confessionalism are laying siege to one of the chief traditional proofs for the confessional doctrine of the covenant of works. Maybe our ostensible confessionalists are just that?

  7. You’ve lost me. I try t reply to arguments when I can understand them

    Mebbe I can help. I totally see Bruce’s point (especially through the lens of Phillip).

    (a) You respond “I don’t see how distinguishing the visible church from the invisible church helps the Baptists at all!”, but Phillip points out (and I agree) that Hodge’s last sentence weighs against a visible/invisible distinction: “The church is, therefore, in its essential nature, a company of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership.” To my ear that sounds much like the Baptist error.

    (b) I don’t see that you have addressed (not noticed?) Phillip’s clearer point:

    [Hodge] ascribes circumcision entirely to the covenant of law which has ceased. This, of course, Baptists do so that they may claim that baptism is an entirely new ordinance under a new administration, and that therefore infants are not to be baptised.

    If we don’t baptize babies because they are Abraham’s natural children (who will hopefully someday be graced with the faith to be re-born as Abraham’s spiritual children), then why do we baptize them at all?

  8. I’m not actually opposing that idea, Dr.C., certainly not in a reactionary way.

    I have NO problem with recognizing that the Law, if it is taken alone and viewed for analysis’ sake as a thing in itself, is indeed nothing but a Covenant of Works, or even the CoW.

    But it does seem problematic to me to say (as it appears was/is said by some) that this typological covenant from Sinai has a substantive existence separate from the Covenant of Grace. Why would we want to say this? To me, there is essentially no difference whatsoever between an ancient Israelite swearing at the foot of Sinai, and a false convert swearing at the baptismal font. The difference is purely in the sheer volume of the presentation.

    I fully appreciate the distinguishing that Paul sets forth, New vs. Old, and the connection he then makes between New and Abraham, with Sinai (Old) set between them. But it is perfectly clear to me that what one gets in the Mosaic administration is the same covenant of Grace with a superaddition, a kind of pretentious glory (intendedly so by God) that it is all the more easily mistaken for the true glory.

    The fact that this event constitutes a national inauguration is, so far as I can tell, tertiarty to the CoG (1st) and its churchly configuration (2nd). It is tertiary because the FULL exhibition of the antitype is the longest in coming–it awaits the pure eschaton for its consummate revelation. How a thing so tertiary is made into something of substance I can hardly tell, except to say that the Israelites who so followed it as such were the blindest of the blind. Their formal expulsion from the land is certainly tied to their failures to “keep covenant”, but at the very heart of their failure is a faith-failure, not a works-failure. Which is no different from the failure which damns every lost soul.

    As I have said, it isn’t my argumentative purpose to defeat the principle that there is a “works” schema present within the Mosaic administration. Nor do I want to make baptists of good presbyterians like Hodge or Kline. The baptists are simply exploiting Hodge and Kline at certain points (of vulnerability?) in their statements or formulations.

    So, I’m asking the question in response: Have we made it clear enough at the beginning of our understanding that Sinai is first and foremost an administration of the Covenant of Grace? And only in some subsidiary, accidental sense, an exhibition of the old Covenant of Works?

    With much admiration,

  9. 1. The point in quoting Hodge is to illustrate that MGK did not invent the doctrine of republication.

    2. However infelicitous Hodge’s language might have been at certain points, it seems pretty clear to me (thus I don’t agree with Bruce’s reading of Hodge) is that his intent is not to do what he’s being accused of doing. In other words, folks are seizing on a phrase and making it do things Hodge never intended. Hodge wasn’t having the same argument we’re having was he?

    3. WWHS? What would Hodge say (today if he were here)? He would teach some form of republication and he certainly thought that the church is both spiritual and external or organism and organization. Hodge wasn’t an idiot.

  10. Bruce,

    I’m not saying that the Mosaic covenant had a separate existence apart from the covenant of grace. In Gal 3:19, Paul says that the law was “added” (prostithemi). He’s speaking there of the Mosaic covenant, isn’t he?

    Is it not sufficient to say that the covenant of grace, the Abrahamic covenant, was administered through the Mosaic and yet the Mosaic as such, as a distinct epoch in the history of redemption, is also unique in certain aspects (e.g. as a republication of the covenant of works)?

    I think republication is seeking to account for the one (the unity of Moses and Abraham) and the many (what distinguishes Moses and Abraham).

    Thus there is continuity and discontinuity between the oaths sworn by Israelites at circumcision and the oaths sworn by Christians at baptism. I agree with you about the continuity. We’re all members of the same church. They were members of a typological church looking forward to the realities that we have in Christ. There was, however, an additional layer of typology, the national covenant that was fulfilled. So, it’s not quite accurate to say that there was “no difference.” There is substantial continuity and accidental (or non-essential) discontinuity.

    We’re not a national people, however. We have no national covenant with any civil entity.

    I’m happy to stipulate the priority of the covenant of grace (per Bruce) in general. What does it cost us to say that the covenant of works is both a covenant of works relative to the national covenant (with the qualifications I offered at the outset) and an administration of the covenant of grace.

    I don’t what to quibble about priority. If folks are willing to allow that the Mosaic covenant has both aspects, we’re set. If one wants to speak of the priority of the covenant of grace in Moses, fine.


  11. Dr. Clark

    i just want to clarify, that the republication of the covenant of waorks is with respect to the land promise that they could inherit the land if the nation of israel would be obedient?

    • Moises,

      There have been more than a couple republication schemes proposed in the history of Reformed theology. I have some sympathy with the version you mention because of its explanatory power but I realize that there are difficulties attached to it too.

      There are a number of posts on this topic on the HB:

      The only thing that is non-negotiable for Reformed theology is that the law given at Sinai was substantially the same law given to Adam. This is the doctrine of WCF 19. The basic doctrine is that the Mosaic law was re-published to teach Israel the greatness of her sin and misery and to drive her to Christ. Whether their status as the national people and their tenure in the land was contingent upon obedience is a matter of considerable debate.

      Check out the posts in the thread linked above. This most basic form of republication, of the substantial identity of the decalogue with the law given to Adam, has been taught unequivocally by Reformed theologians since the 16th century.

  12. Dr. Clark

    again i would just like to settle the matter in my mind =) that the “republication of the covenant of works” in the mosaic covenant is the republication of the moral law given to adam which was also then given to the nation of israel to show them how sinful they are and that they have to cling to Christ and not as a means of inheriting the land because it was already promised in the abrahamic covenant? =) i really appreciated your reply, hope that you could reply to my inquiry again

    • Well, Moises, it’s not easy.

      Have you read the the posts to which I linked?

      I don’t know that I can settle this for you on a blog.

      Have you read The Law is Not of Faith?

      God promised the land to them freely but I don’t think that the promise of the land was necessarily or obviously part of the covenant of grace. I think that we need to distinguish Gen 12 and 15 from ch. 17 as they deal with different things. I understand, however, that Israel’s tenure in the land could not have been a matter of absolutely strict justice since they broke the covenant before the tablets came down from Sinai. Nevertheless, God does speak to them in legal terms (see Deut!) about their tenure in the land and he expelled them on the basis of their disobedience.

      The legal element of the Israelite economy relative to the land, not salvation or justification, has long been recognized by Reformed theologians.

      Check out the posts linked.

  13. Thank you Dr. Clark,

    i already read some of the post, correct me if im wrong, that the concept of the “republication of the covenant of works” has more to do with the law being given to the nation of israel to show them that they are sinners in need of a savior? (calvin’s first use of the law) rather than their tenure in the land? or was the law given as a means for them to merit the land? thank you your reply is really appreciated. i am just starting in my journey for covenant theology after being convinced that dispensationalism is not biblical, i just came across with your post about the republication issue to i wanted to be clarified as to what this doctrine is really about. thank you! =)

    • Moises,

      The most basic idea behind republication is that the creational law, the natural law, the moral law was re-stated at Sinai in the Decalogue (10 commandments) in part to teach the Israelites (and us) the greatness of their (and our) sin and misery and to point them to Christ.

      In addition to that some Reformed theologians have added the idea of a national, temporary, conditional covenant with national Israel relative to their status as the national people and their tenure in the land.

      See the VanDrunen, Fesko, Estelle volume for more on this.

      Check out the rest of the posts linked.

      See also this resource page:

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