Office Hours Special: The Law is Not of Faith

Office HoursThanks to David VanDrunen, John Fesko, and Brian Estelle for putting in some Office Hours this week as they sit down to discuss their book, The Law is Not of Faith. In this volume, my above-mentioned colleagues along with Mike Horton, Steve Baugh, and T. David Gordon and others address the question of how confessional Reformed folk should think about the Mosaic covenant (e.g. how does the Mosaic covenant relate to the covenant of grace) and the question of the “republication” of the covenant of works.

You can order this important volume from the Bookstore at Westminster Seminary California for $14.29 + 5.00 shipping.

You can subscribe to Office Hours via RSS (feedburner) or via iTunes.

Here are some resources to introduce you to the historic Reformed doctrine of republication:

The Novelty of Republication…in 1597?

Herman Witsius on Republication

John Owen on Republication

The Marrow of Modern Divinity on Republication

Amandus Polanus on Republication

On Republication (pt 1)

On Republication (pt 2)


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  1. Dr. Clark.

    I have a question for you as I work through this issue of republication. In one of your linked blog posts, (On Republication, Part 2), you state:

    “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.”

    In the post your provided on John Owen’s view on republication, the following quote is given:

    For Owen, the Mosaic covenant was superimposed upon the covenant of grace. It was a republishment (or “revival” as he often calls it) of the original covenant of works with Adam (XXII, pp.77-90). “It revived the promise of that covenant, – that of eternal life upon perfect obedience. So the apostle tells us that Moses thus describeth the righteousness of the law, ‘That the man which doeth those things shall live by them,’ Rom x.5; as he doth, Lev.xviii.5. Now this is no other but the covenant of works revived. Nor had this covenant of Sinai any promise of eternal life annexed unto it, as such, but only the promise inseparable from the covenant of works which it revived, saying, ‘Do this, and live.'” (XXII, p.78)

    It appears that you a advocating a position that the revival of the COW to Israel was only in a narrow sense related to temporal blessings for obedience. In other words, obey and receive the land,blessings, etc. The COW for Israel was not a reintroduction of the original COW with Adam.

    However, Owen seems to make no distinction between the COW God made with Adam and with Israel. At least in the limited quotes provided in the John Owen link, there is no mention of the COW for Israel only applying to temporal, and not salfivic promises. It reads to me that he believes the COW for Israel was simply a restatement of the COW to Adam, knowing that salvation by the law was not possible given man’s state after the fall. So I’m not sure I see what COW was revived for Owen given actual obedience for salvation wasn’t possible for Israel?

    Maybe I am reading this wrong. Can you help clarify?


    • There were several (one writer says something like 14!) different approaches to this question in the 17th century. Owen’s own view may not (if memory serves) have remained constant. The quote from Owen is only to establish that he wrote and thought in terms of a republication — an idea which many have rejected in our time, ignorantly, as a novelty or incompatible with Reformed theology. I wouldn’t try to deduce much more from that quote. If you’re asking if Owen was a Pelagian re Israel under the law, the answer is no. If you’re asking if he was a dispensationalist, the answer is no.

    • soonerborn: Owen taught that the Mosaic was concerning temporal only

      This covenant [Sinai] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was ?the ministry of condemnation,? 2 Cor. iii. 9; for ?by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.? And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    In the interview you spoke of a hypothetical scenario that involved your neighbor shooting your head off if you went on his lawn. You used that as an example of works. In other words, your obedience to that command was crucial.

    However, what you failed to mention in the analogy was the promise of life, a reward from the “gunman” for faithful obedience.

    What I am wondering is why you all seemed so reluctant to use the term “grace” when describing the covenant of works. If I am not mistaken, most of the Puritans spoke of grace in the covenant of works. So, why are you and the speakers so reluctant to use that word?

    Also, did you note Robert Letham’s recent work where he argued: “On the absence of grace, Kline is simply wrong. The Westminster documents clearly affirm that grace was present before the fall.” The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context, 232.


    • Scott,

      You might listen to the series on the Nine Points.

      See also these resources:

      The covenant of works may be said to be made graciously but it is not gracious per se. “Do this and live” is not “grace.” It is law. This is why Paul strictly juxtaposed grace and law in Rom 11. This is why the Westminster Confession speaks of God’s “voluntary condescension” not his “grace.”

      Most Reformed writers, whether English, Scots, or European did not speak of the covenant of works/life/nature as “gracious.”

      That is a mostly a modern development after Barth that has been read back into the tradition.

      We’re not doing anyone any favors by allowing grace to swallow up works/law if only because it detracts from the finished work of Jesus who earned our justification by his whole obedience. That righteousness was real. He was not received by grace (unmerited favor). He was received as he was, actually, intrinsically, wholly righteous. I stand confidently before God not on the basis of congruent (imputed) merit but on the basis of Jesus condign (worthy) merit. He met the terms of the covenant of works, he met the terms of the national covenant with Israel. He made it possible for their to be a covenant of grace, which was made in view of his fulfillment of the covenant with the Father and the historical covenants of works (Adam) and with Moses/Israel.

      On this see several chapters in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    I have to respectfully disagree your point that the Reformed did not consider the covenant of works gracious. The evidence that they did is simply overwhelming.

    Do you believe that law and gospel existed before the Fall?

    Who said that grace swallows up law? The Reformed all affirmed justice in the garden, but they saw no contradiction between justice and grace.

    What do you think about the Letham quote provided by Scott?



  4. Scott, I enjoyed the podcast. Lots of food for thought. Can I play devil’s advocate and ask a question regarding how essential the doctrine of the CofW is? Does denying it generally result in a dilution of justification sola fide and a blurring of the law/gospel distinction? I suppose I’m thinking of the Lutherans who, as I understand their confessions, uphold the aforementioned doctrines without a CofW. Has the doctrine of justification, in your opinion and if you’re able to answer this one, suffered in Lutheran circles as a result of denying a CofW?

    • Hi Nick,

      Good to hear from you.

      Well, it’s not as if confessional Lutherans don’t entertain trouble on the doctrine of justification already with their doctrine of resistible grace. Their rejection of the covenant of works sets up a fundamental hermeneutical problem — they don’t account for the distinct principles of law and grace in redemptive history, at least they haven’t historically. That’s what the Reformed were trying to do in their covenant theology. See the Olevianus book on this.

  5. Dr. Law/Gospel

    I’m experiencing technical difficulties with this particular Office Hours recording. Could you check on that for me?


    The Lunchbox

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