Melchior Leydekker on the Covenant of Works

Because so many folk define “Dutch Reformed theology” as if it began in the early 19th century or in the early 20th century—one always wonders, “From where did those churches and people come?—it is too frequently claimed that the doctrine of “the covenant of works” is a “Presbyterian” idea. Nonsense, balderdash, and poppycock are not  just partners in a law firm. As always Wes White has a helpful post on a mostly-forgotten but interesting Dutch Reformed theologian on the covenant of works.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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15 comments

  1. As posted elsewhere, the doctrine is hardly unknown in continental theology, being mentioned as it is in the Argument (preface or summary) to the New Testament in the Staten Vertaling or States General Bible translation & annotations of 1637 as called for by the historic Synod of Dordt (1618,19). While perhaps it is not as binding as the Canons, it is nothing to sneer at. It reads:

    The word Testament is a Latine word, whereby the Greek word Diakethe is rendered, which the Greek translators use to express the Hebrew word Berith, that is Covenant. And thereby I properly understood the Covenant itself, which God hath made with mankinde upon certain conditions to give them everlasting life: which Covenant is twofold, the Old and the New. The Old is that which God made with the first man before the fall, wherein eternal life was promised upon condition of a thoroughly perfect obedience, and keeping of the Law; and is thereby called the Legall Covenant, which God again propounded to the Israelites, that from thence they might learn to understand (seeing this condition is transgressed by all men, and can now be fulfilled by no man) that they must seek their salvation in another Covenant, which is called the New [Covenant,] and consisteth in this: That God hath appointed his Son for a Mediator, and promiseth eternal life upon condition that we believe in him; and is called the Covenant of Grace.

    The Dutch Annotations were translated into English by a Theodore Haak in 1657 as originally requested by a number of Westminster divines in 1645, including the Scots in toto. A facsimile reprint of 2002 may be obtained from Reformation Heritage Books in Grand Rapids from which the above quote and information is taken.

  2. Since the Lord Himself never mentions or gives the idea that His covenant IS a covenant of works which later on would be replaced by the covenant of grace …. I find that anyone who advocates such covenant theology to be quite vain in their understanding of covenant theology.

    The Lord’s covenant has always been of grace … from eternity and through history, to eternity the same … just because a dutch theologian vindicates it …means little … Erasmus was dutch too … big deal… so were a host of remonstrants and arminians.

    The Lord’s covenant is governed by His predestinating purposes …. anything else is but the vain philosophy of the carnal creature.

      • No … just their advocation of the covenant of works, conditional covenant theology, and that the Lord’s covenant is an agreement between 2 parties. I reject these philosophies as vain and carnal.

  3. Ray’s reply is common. It is either ignorance of the subject itself (very understandable as many people have a difficult time understanding Covenant/Federal Theology) or it is intentional agitprop from quasi-Romanists (Federal Visionists, etc.) calling themselves Reformed (just as many American communists called themselves Democrats). The agitprop is intentionally both reasoned argument (sophistical) and emotional (“I won’t stand for anybody saying that *works* are involved with salvation!!!”)

    There is also a lot of disingenuous bewilderment (they know what the doctrine of republication is and means, but they pretend to not understand it because they are quasi-Romanists and despise the doctrine of God).

    Whichever category Ray falls under they are a persevering group (yes, even unfortunately the truly just ignorant), and probably won’t cease and desist until and unless they are forced to by the Spirit.

    Again, I don’t want to slam an innocent person, as stated above, Ray may just be truly in a state of current non-understanding of Covenant/Federal Theology, which would not be unusual.

  4. ray,
    I’m not going to be disdainful of you, or miscast your views.

    You, on the other hand, confidently (brashly) assert that, well, virtually the whole crowd of leaders of the Reformation, and the second generation, and the third… all these men who were passionately devoted to understanding and teaching Scripture and covenant were — “vain”. It was a lying passion they had.

    Right. The people who thought they recovered a robust biblical theology from the Roman dustbin: sophomoric philosophes and worldly thinkers, according to you. And of course no revival of true religion can come of such, pity. None of the people got a faithful ministry; no one can hear the Good Shepherd’s Voice.

    Sounds like your telling us the Reformation was basically a big waste of time. Pretty much exchanging one set of false theological ideas for another? Replace the priestly set with a different set of sheep-eaters?

    Thank God for the internet, and the ability to get the word out. Until now, noe of the Reformed church had access to REAL exegetes. Like you.

    Tell me, Brother ray, when will Christ revive his church? When will he give us a faithful creed and confession? “Truly thou art the people, and wisdom will die with you.”

    • Reformed theology will do just fine … without the doctrine and explanations of what a covenant of works is. This is not high handed, or arrogant, neither is it an attempt to white wash the Reformation …. covenant theology is what the Gospel says it is … eternal, everlasting, gracious, a bond of friendship between the Triune God and His chosen elect. The Gospel also says the the Lord’s covenant is established , maintained and sustained by Him alone … it is His covenant… it is unilateral… not bilateral.

      God’s covenant of grace is not some johnny come lately, it’s been around since before the foundation of the world … that’s the idea behind God calling His covenant eternal, everlasting. You will not find a reference to the Lord calling His covenant… of works … you will see the term gracious though. You will certainly not see any evidence that a so called coveannt of works is eternal and everlasting. Of course the idea of the merit of Adam and the promise of eternal life to Adam “had he” notice the assumption … and not the reality …. fulfilled the covenant of works. Do you understand what your advocating here …
      1. the assumption that Adam had the ability to merit eternal life if only he obeyed and did “his” part in the covenant of works.

      2. the reality … God intended Adam to fall, and it was also predestined that Christ would save His people… the elect… from there sins so that they… the elect… would have in Christ… the bond of fellowship and friendship within the covenant of grace. In reality …. covenantally… the idea of merit is with Christ, never with man. God has and always will do all what is required with regards to His covenant … unilateral.

      Problem is … it’s there in black and white and you do not see it. It is pointed out to you, but your too busy looking for fern seed and you cannot see the elephant there in front of you. Worse, when it is pointed out to you … well … the responses above are the fruit.

      • Ray, you say ‘neither’, but this comment by you screams ‘ignorance.’ You conflate pre-fall Adam with fallen man (they’re not the same as regards ability to not sin), and you fail to grasp that Federal Theology states salvation is by works: your own or Jesus’ appropriated by faith. Good luck if you rely on your own. And if you deny Jesus – the second Adam – fulfills the Covenant of Works on behalf of the elect you are shifting the burden right back onto your back. Good luck.

        This is not just theory. You have no standing in law in God’s Kingdom and that will translate very concretely once the devil assaults you and you stand there with your own works which are as filthy rags.

        Some advice: get understanding of a subject before you affect to teach others.

        • Well …I deny that pre fall Adam and sinful Adam are not the same person. He is. No loop hole for you … try again.

          Second, I also reject that covenant theology is based on works … it is based on God’s sovereign grace. Try again.

          Your covenant theology is nothing but a means to an end …. covenant theology to me is as is stated in Scripture … eternal and everlasting.

          3rd, your advice sucks … I am “living” covenant theology here and now … I am not interested in an armchair and ivory tower theologian vain philosophy, because Scripture never is interested in that either when it comes to understanding covenant theology… as a matter of fact … do not try again … it’s vanity and I see enough of that daily.

          • OK, Ray, I seem to remember you now from GreenBaggins. You were ignorant, arrogant, and unteachable there, and here as well. You remind me of certain types who go on the financial message boards and talk down certain stocks without having any investment in the stocks. You just look for opportunities to troll.

  5. The passion and doggedness with which the false teachers attack the Covenant of Works shows how central and important this doctrine is in God’s plan of redemption. As always it is the central doctrine of justification by faith alone which is their target. It will be until Jesus returns.

  6. The Protestant Reformed Churches reject the covenant of works but for entirely different reasons than Federal Visionists. You might want to consult Herman Hoeksema’s Dogmatics, Vol. 1:304-321.

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