The Context of the Republication Debate

Why is Such An Old Doctrine So Controversial Now?

A few correspondents have contacted me to ask about the continuing controversy over the doctrine of republication. It seems as if it might be useful to try to put this discussion in some context.

In its most basic form, the doctrine of republication is the teaching that the same law, in essence, that was given to Adam as part of the covenant of works before the fall (see Westminster Confession of Faith chapters 7 and 19) was, in some way, re-stated or repeated to national Israel.

From where did the doctrine of republication come? Those who hold it as a matter of biblical exegesis and theology would say that it comes from Scripture. Historians of the Reformed tradition generally admit that it was taught in the classical period of Reformed theology (16th and 17th centuries).

Despite its existence in the tradition it has become hotly controversial in Reformed theology in recent years. Why the controversy after so many centuries? Part of the explanation is that much of what was taught as Reformed covenant theology in the 20th century did not adhere closely to the older versions. For example, the doctrine of the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis or consilium pacis).

Covenant Justification and Pastoral Ministry-FeaturedWhen I began my research into the history of covenant theology, however, I found a very different picture. I found people teaching the pactum salutis regularly and without embarrassment. I did not pay much attention because I was asking other questions but I did notice the tension between the older and modern treatments. I did not really begin to think about the covenant of redemption until my colleague, Steve Baugh, began to query me about it in 1997 or so. He was interested in it because of his research in the New Testament. He wondered if the covenant of redemption might be a way to explain some of what he was finding in Paul. At his prompting I began to work on it more diligently and found it to be taught widely in the Reformed tradition, in the classical period. In CJPM we tried to explain what happened to this doctrine and why we need to recover it.

When I came into contact with the Reformed churches I heard a little about the covenant of works but it too seemed to be regarded as controversial. In seminary it remained controversial despite the fact that it is taught explicitly and repeatedly in the Westminster Standards. It says something about the state of Reformed theology in the 1970s and 1980s that a doctrine that is expressly taught in the Westminser Confession chapter 7 and that is repeated verbatim in chapter 19 could be regarded as controversial. One could get the impression that those who held to the traditional doctrine were radicals or renegades. The historical evidence that the covenant of works was widely held, however, is overwhelming.

It is a long story as to how it was lost or obscured but the short story is that after Karl Barth (1886–1968) rejected the covenant of works it became less popular. Barth’s influence in the 20th century (and today) was immense. People were influenced by him without even knowing it because they were influenced by writers (e.g., Berkouwer) who were influenced by him. In the second half of the 20th century, the doctrine of the pre-fall covenant of works came under suspicion even in “conservative” Reformed circles.

Thus, by the 1970s fully two-thirds of what had been classical Reformed covenant theology was no longer the norm in much of the “conservative” Reformed world. Many Reformed people had a truncated covenant theology and they assumed that what they had been taught must be what Reformed folk have always believed. This was an odd situation indeed but for those who were introduced to Reformed theology in that period these revisions were accepted as the norm, as the way things have always been or as they way they should have been.

It’s well to remember here that, until very recently, it was not easy to get hold of primary sources from the classical period. In some cases it meant relying on footnotes or quotations or order micro-fiche (compressed photographs of books often done poorly) or microfilm. Today I can log on to a service that provides almost the entire Reformed tradition, in the original languages. I can do a word search to discover what they taught in the same way we use Bible software. To be sure much of the tradition is still hidden from much of the Reformed community by a language barrier but at least we have the texts before us to translate as needed.

During the 1970s and 80s another aspect of traditional Reformed covenant theology became controversial partly because it too, like the covenants of redemption and works, had been lost. When people began to speak of it again it seemed odd, even foreign and that rediscovery was taking place in a very different context than the one in which it had been originally formulated.

When the doctrine of republication was originally articulated it typically served as a proof for the doctrine of the covenant of works. This is important. When writers appeal to one truth to prove another it is because the proof to which they are appealing as evidence for the second is regarded as more evident or clearer than the other. The argument frequently was this:

1. There could not have been a republication unless there was a pre-fall covenant of works
2. There was a republication.
3. Therefore there was a pre-fall covenant of works

It would not have been a very strong argument if the middle premise were in doubt.

The doctrine of republication was also an attempt by Reformed theologians to explain the obviously legal character of the Mosaic (Old) covenant without undermining the essential unity of the covenant of grace in redemptive history and without subverting the biblical and confessional Protestant doctrine of free acceptance with God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed alone, received through faith alone.

Those who appealed to republication, to my knowledge, did so on the assumption of the fundamental unity of the covenant of grace. For most of the classical writers, the Mosaic covenant was both an administration of the covenant of grace and a republication of the covenant of works. They could think this way because they were not thinking about republication of the law as contradictory to the covenant of grace. The law was never intended to be an actual or even hypothetical alternative to grace as the basis for salvation or acceptance with God.

Perhaps one reason why this is difficult for us is that among the inheritances that we have lost in the modern period is the distinction between law and gospel. For most of the classical writers, the notion that we can preach both the law and the gospel at the same time, to different ends, was utterly plain. In the course of the modern period and particularly in the 20th century, Reformed folk lost track of this distinction. We’ll explore some of the reasons for this loss below but one of them is the influence of Karl Barth. He turned on its head the traditional Reformed doctrine of law and gospel and that influence permeated even the conservative Reformed world while they were at war with Barth’s doctrine of revelation. Thus, many modern Reformed folk are shocked to find the degree to which they’ve imbibed and assumed Barthian novelties, since they see themselves (and they are) staunch opponents of Barth on other issues.

Always Reformed-FeaturedBy the time the doctrine of republication began to be rediscovered those doing it were not in European or British state churches. They were not in the majority anywhere. It was largely rediscovered by Americans who were already cut off from the older Reformed tradition and who were surrounded intellectually and socially by theologies that had more in common with the early Anabaptist movements than with historic Reformed theology. For more on this see the essay on Sister Aimee in Always Reformed.

The American hero of the conservative Reformed and Presbyterians in the first half of the 20th century was J. Gresham Machen (1881–1936). He was a Princeton theologian and a sort of American aristocrat. He represented acceptance of Reformed theology in elite social and religious circles. His opinions were widely published in leading magazines and newspapers during his life. His exclusion from the mainline Presbyterian church (PCUSA) in 1929 and his death in 1936 signaled the marginalization of the conservative and confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches and their exile from the corridors of influence perhaps forever. The seminary he founded in 1929, Westminster, became the home of the conservative resistance to liberalism but within two decades those evangelicals who wanted to return to influence, who were not satisfied to plant and serve small, socially marginal congregations, abandoned Westminster to establish a new beachhead in Pasadena, CA. Those fundamentalists who also hankered to return to influence, abandoned Machen’s movement early on.

By the middle of the 20th century, most “evangelicals” read the history of redemption in a way that was quite different from the way the Reformed had read it in the classical period. Few evangelicals had any awareness or sympathy for the ideas of a pre-temporal covenant of redemption or a covenant of works or a unified covenant of grace with multiple administrations. Under the influence of Dispensationalism they tended to make a sharp dichotomy between the old testament and the new and they made no clear distinction between Moses and Abraham. As a result the entire typological period of the history of redemption, including the ten commandments, was essentially discarded. The OT served mainly as source material for discussions of prophecy and moral examples.

In reaction, many American Reformed (and Presbyterian) folk, socially and ecclesiastically isolated and feeling beset by enemies liberal, fundamentalist, and Dispensational, so emphasized the unity of the covenant of grace that any distinctions within that unity or any emphasis on the progress of redemption and revelation came to be viewed with suspicion as if it might be latent Dispensationalism or antinomianism.

Not only did much evangelical theology sound quasi-Marcionite in the ears of many Reformed folk but the evangelicals were also dominated by an Arminian view of salvation, that grace initiates a process of salvation but that we must do our part and are able to do our part if only we will. In light of the widespread influence of such a soteriology, it is not surprising that, when the doctrine of republication began to come to light again in the 1970s and 80s it might be viewed by some as idiosyncratic and even dangerous.

To be sure, not every Reformed theologian, in the classical period, articulated the exact same view of the Mosaic covenant. How to explain the nature of the Mosaic covenant has always been a difficult question but certainly the idea that the giving of the law at Sinai was, in some sense, a re-statement of, an expression of, a republication of the same law that was given to Adam was not considered idiosyncratic. In the 18th century, the chief of the “Marrow Men,” Thomas Boston (1676–1832) could not understand how anyone could not see the doctrine of republication implied clearly in WCF 19. By the mid-20th century, however, it was not a matter of drawing inferences. It was a matter of rediscovering a way of interpreting the history of redemption that had been more or less forgotten.

This idea was less difficult for the classical Reformed theologians because one of the assumptions on which it was based is the idea that the law that God gave to Adam before the fall was the “natural law” and thus, the Ten Commandments given at Sinai were simply a re-articulation of this same law, albeit in Mosaic terms. The classical Reformed theologians were used to distinguishing between that which makes a thing what it is and that which is incidental to a thing. This was an old distinction which they learned as boys in grammar school: the distinction between substance and accidents.

They saw the substance of the natural law in the Ten Commandments. They understood that the Saturday Sabbath and the promise of the law were accidents—not mistakes but properties that were temporary and that could fall away without changing the law itself. The essence of the law itself is to love God with all one’s faculties and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (Matt 22:37–40).

Virtually all those who taught a version of republication saw it as a sort of intensification of the original, natural law given to Adam. The function of the 613 commandments was to point the Israelites to Christ. The 613 commandments (mitzvoth) were an elaboration of the law specific to the Israelites. Some of the law was religious and ceremonial, having to do with the sacrifices etc. Some of the law civil, having to do with the Israelite state. The Ten Commandments were regarded as moral law, which they treated as an expression of the natural or moral law given to Adam. Because the moral law is natural they understood that it was the same law which is written on the consciences of all humans everywhere. This was the magisterial Protestant doctrine and the heritage of Reformed orthodoxy.

Again, however, partly because for many Reformed in the modern period the idea of “natural law” came to associated with Remonstrants and others such as Hugo Grotius and was also stoutly rejected by Karl Barth it too fell into neglect and yet another basic building block of the classical Reformed covenant theology was lost.

So, when we consider the state of Reformed covenant theology from the middle of the 20th century forward it’s no wonder that the attempt to recover the classical formulations of it, including the covenants of redemption and works and some idea of recapitulation of the covenant of works would be met with opposition.

We can understand why Reformed folk, cut off from the tradition, in a context were the basic building blocks of the classical period were lost, would object to the doctrine of republication on theological or exegetical grounds. It’s a thorny question and we all come to it from different backgrounds and in different contexts. Those backgrounds and contexts color the way we look at it. Those who come from or who are responding to some form of Dispensationalism are apt to look less favorably on any version of the doctrine of republication because it may seem to weaken the unity of the covenant of grace and provide an opening for those who want to marginalize (or reject) the Decalogue because it was given under Moses. In that case the specter of antinomianism appears.

There are also concerns about Pelagianism. According to some, who reject any idea of republication, the very notion that the covenant of works given to Adam was republished to the Israelites is inherently Pelagianizing. This concerns the teaching of a 4th and 5th century British monk who denied original sin and taught the ability of humans to obey the law for acceptance with God.

To be clear, the Reformed churches have rejected Pelagianism as heresy. We also reject semi-Pelagianism, the doctrine that grace comes first but that we must cooperate with it unto salvation, as a gross error. This was the work of the Synod of Dort (1618–19).

To the best of my knowledge, none of the various versions of the doctrine of republication ever held that somehow, under Moses, sinners were able to earn either their salvation or their justification. The earliest versions of republication treated the Mosaic law as a re-statement and intensification of the natural law for the purposes of pointing the Israelites to Christ. In other words, the law was republished for pedagogical purposes. There were (many) other views articulated in the classical period, including those that connected the republication of the natural law/covenant of works with Israel’s status as a national people, but the classical Reformed covenant theologians would be surprised at the degree to which an idea they largely took as a given is now considered controversial.

If we consider the tortuous (as distinct from torturous) history of Reformed theology in the modern period, it is a marvel that any of the tradition survived at all. The recovery of that tradition will continue to be difficult but we should persevere because those goods are ours and they are inherently valuable. As we take them out of the attic and dust them off we will need to explain to our brothers and sisters what they are, what they do, and why they’re still useful in our late modern age.


Posts on republication on the HB

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  1. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for this helpful post. Very informative.

    Could some of the other factors that have made the republication view seem a foreign concept in some conservative Reformed & Presbyterian circles also include: The influence of John Murray’s rejection of the concept of a pre-fall covenant of works? The impact of Norman Shepherd’s monocovenantalism? The hypercovenantalism and neolegalism of the Federal Vision error (with its blurring of the distinction between the visible & invisible church, its identification of justifying faith with “covenant faithfulness,” its confusing of law and gospel, and its rejection of any concept of legal “merit” — even, in some cases, refusing to see the redemptive work of Christ as meritorious, etc.)? The rise of theonomy and Christian reconstructionism, with their strong nomian emphasis? Or would you say these things are but the fruits of the historical theological roots which you mention?

    Geoff Willour

    • Hi Jeff,

      Yes. Mr Murray was clear about the historical status of his revision but his students seem to have taken his view as the baseline—that happens.

      Yes, the other movements, as you say, have led to confusion. Theonomy, the desire to reinstitute the Mosaic civil law, fundamentally misunderstands the temporary nature of the Mosaic administration.

      Yes, I quite agree re the FV et al.

      Monocovenantalism is more complicated than I once thought. If, by it, one means there is only one gracious covenant before and after the fall” that is an error. Many of our writers, however, have spoken of “the covenant” with two distinct aspects, works and grace. The error of Shepherd and others has been to conflate “the covenant” with “the covenant of grace.” Given that the pactum salutis had both gracious and legal elements—it was works for the Son and gracious for us—it is reasonable to speak of “the covenant” from that perspective. From a historical, administrative perspective, however, we may speak of “covenants” of works and grace insofar as they represent two distinct principles.

  2. Excellent article that clarifies a lot as to how we got to where we are in today’s Reformed and Presbyterian worlds. I’ll be passing this on. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for this excellent post Dr. Clark. Seeing the legal nature during the Mosaic administration while the Abrahamic covenant is still in operation is so helpful in understanding Galatians and various OT passages. Glad people like you are continuing to bring attention to ‘republication’.

    • thank you, RSC. Good meaty stuff like this is enormously beneficial. It is surprising how the historical context is so useful in maintaining our current doctrinal balance.

      Brad – interested to know more, esp about Galatians

  4. This was a very interesting read.

    I wonder if you can help me out; I’ve taken grief from NPP/FV-types over your statement that “I realize that what I’m offering here is a revision or expansion of the older doctrine“, as if that were somehow a blanket admission that you personally invented republication from whole cloth. Could you maybe summarize (in a different post?) what you see as standard and historically agreed-upon, vs more current revision/expansion?

  5. Dr. Clark,

    I was hoping you would take up this issue again soon. At some point, might you discuss the distinction between “formal republication” (which the opponents of the republication doctrine generally deny) and “material republication” (which they generally affirm). Thanks!

  6. Dr. Clark,

    Brent Ferry invokes this distinction in his ThM thesis. He explains material republication as follows (pp 69ff.):

    The Mosaic Covenant is referred to loosely or generally as a republication of the Covenant of Works. But this is understood in a variety of ways. The principle of republication is expressed, first, in terms of moral law. Dabney says “the transactions at Sinai,” among other things, includes a “republication of the moral law.” This means the precepts, as a rule of life, are continuous and consistent with the prelapsarian era. When Calamay calls the Mosaic Covenant “a perfect copy of the covenant of works, yet being given to another end,” he means the ten commandments are a copy of the Covenant of Works in a very restricted way; namely to function only as a rule of life, not as a covenant. Calamay repeatedly calls the Ten Commandments a “copy” or a “perfect copy” of the Covenant of Works. But he qualifies this at the same time saying the Ten Commandments are neither a covenant of works nor grace, but “a rule of life for those already in covenant.” Further along he calls it “the moral law.”

    Perhaps with more precision, Sedgwick distinguishes between the matter and form of the Ten Commandments, the former referring to the precepts of the law, the latter referring to the precepts functioning as a covenant. “Though materially it [the Decalogue] respected works, yet formally and intentionally, it was not then given and established as a covenant of works, by which we should be justified and live.” This is soft republication, because it extracts any sense of a covenantal function or intent from the likeness between Adam and Moses admitting only a moral continuity, which can be said about every historical dispensation of time from the probation to the eschaton.

    Then he explains formal republication:

    While some employ the matter and form designations to soften the nature of this republication, others employ it to strengthen the republication, as if to say the Mosaic Covenant republished the Covenant of Works as a rule and a covenant. This is hard republication. William Strong (d. 1654) of the Westminster Assembly does this, though with the important qualification that the Lord never intended the Mosaic Law to be used as a mechanism for actually earning eternal life. For Strong the Decalogue was more than a republication of the moral law (the matter), but also the Covenant of Works properly speaking (the form). He says, “it was not only delivered as a rule of righteousness, but in the form and terms of a covenant.” Further along he writes, “It was delivered after a sort in the form of the covenant of works.”

    The exact nature of this hard, formal republication varies from writer to writer.

    (He then goes on to distinguish between various versions of “formal republication.”)

    • David,

      Thank you for this. I read his chapter in The Law is Not of Faith but I’ve not read the thesis yet. I find the diversity among British writers on covenant theology a little bewildering sometimes. There were lots of permutations. I don’t think any orthodox Reformed writer (British or European) held that the covenant of works was republished without modification because to argue that would be Pelagianizing. One would have to ignore the fall. All the orthodox, who taught republication, always assumed it was mutatis mutandis (with the changes having been changed).

      They understood that the law was given to Adam was given to him in a state of integrity. The law given under Moses, to Israel, was given after the fall. It was given to sinners in a state of corruption. In both instances the law continues to demand perfection and hold the promise of reward on the basis of obedience to those who perform it (Romans 2:13). Sinners cannot, however, perform that law unto the reward offered—not even with the help of grace. Jesus, the Second Adam and the Israel of God, however, being without sin came to do what Adam and Israel refused to do.

  7. Dr. Clark,

    Very helpful post! I do need to re-read it two more times. I’m a little slow on the uptake, please bear with me. Many of us lay persons find this informative, but perhaps you can give us a nutshell sketch of more. Example……OK, here is the “so what” behind this. OR here is a sketch of how this has played out in modern (after Karl Barth, his ramifications) Christianity today. Where do we see this played out in 2013? Can you outline that a bit for us? I have “The Marrow of Modern Divinity” on my shelf unread to this point. I trust it and the books you reference above will also help?

    You state….
    “By the time the doctrine of republication began to be rediscovered those doing it were not in European or British state churches.”
    Why was this?

    ……”within two decades those evangelicals who wanted to return to influence, who were not satisfied to plant and serve small, socially marginal congregations, abandoned Westminster to establish a new beachhead in Pasadena, CA.” Dr. Clark are you speaking here of Fuller Seminary and the like?

    Lay folks in most Reformed churches (let alone typical mega, Baptist,Seeker churches, Willow Creek, Saddle back types) would be confused by this statement of yours…. “Those fundamentalists who also hankered to return to influence, abandoned Machen’s movement early on.” For some it would be…are not fundamentalists bad?
    Ergo, Machen must be bad. Perhaps a brief unpacking of the camps/different meanings or morfings of “fundamentalist” would be helpful.

    Also please unpack why a “return to influence” was/is a bad thing? After all most of the Christian world thinks “influence” is a grand and glorious thing.

    God bless & keep it up!


  8. Sent my comment before I read David R. comments. They too were helpful and shed some light. But me thinks I must re-read all a few times through.

  9. Thanks for this article. Just as a 6-year-old begins to answer every Sunday school question with “Jesus”, I’m beginning to think this housewife theologian might be able to get by in seminary by answering each question with “Barth”. Just kidding. Sort of.

  10. E. Burns, I’ll give a response to your comment a try:

    >Many of us lay persons find this informative, but perhaps you can give us a nutshell sketch of more. Example……OK, here is the “so what” behind this. OR here is a sketch of how this has played out in modern (after Karl Barth, his ramifications) Christianity today. Where do we see this played out in 2013? Can you outline that a bit for us?

    Reformed theologians sometimes use the phrase the power of Reformed Theology. So and so is not able to see the power of Reformed Theology. That power derives from it’s parts in relation to the whole completeness. That power has the power to influence us and change us internally, for instance from being man centered to being God centered. I.e. when we can see that power, or get that parts in relation to the whole understanding of biblical doctrine, and we accept it and value it.

    With the above in mind when foundational elements such as the Covenant of Works are taken out of the picture it obviously effects the impact of the whole. Much of the distaste for the Covenant of Works, John Murray being in a different category (I’ll say because I don’t quite know Murray’s position other than I disagree with it), comes from false teachers who ultimately want to attack and be rid of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It may seem a long way between the Covenant of Works and denying justification by faith alone, but it’s sort of the tactic of redirecting the river at its source.

    Republication is, like Dr. Clark said, a confirmation of the Covenant of Works itself. But it also is foundational to Federal Theology (which is what classical Covenant Theology is, and what Reformed Theology is). Republication is foundational because it involves the spine of Federal Theology which is the two Adams: Adam in the Garden, and the Second (or Last) Adam, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to fulfill what the first Adam failed to fulfill, and to do that Jesus had to be born under the law. I.e. the same law Adam failed to fulfill. This is why that law was republished (in obviously elaborated form) on Sinai.

    Here is where I may go farther than Dr. Clark, but I don’t know why. National Israel was a prototype of the coming Messiah. So the law being given to National Israel (not individual Israelites, but National Israel) is in a sense like it being given to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. (Individual Israelites were saved by faith alone in the coming Messiah just as we are saved by faith alone in the already come Messiah, but *National Israel* is a unique player in God’s plan of redemption. National Israel was the cradle, the bloodline of the coming Messiah, and many other unique things like its history being the very substance of the word of God.)

    So, in this sense National Israel could follow the law for salvation, as a prototype, or an entity that eventually became Jesus Christ Himself. Again individual Israelites, on the other hand, were fallen individuals and could not follow the law to salvation. Only faith in the coming Messiah could save them.

    You can see the attrition on National Israel as an entity by the time of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. As fallen beings they messed up in every way other than shepherding the word of God and keeping the bloodline from Adam (through Abraham) to the King Jesus Christ. Then Jesus Christ fulfilled that law.

    I also think the Jews then were put to sleep regarding the Gospel because otherwise they would have felt a proprietary relationship to it and would have been vain and prideful with it, and would have because of that messed up the communication of it to the world. It is just a practical matter in God’s plan of redemption. This last thing is pure speculation on my part.

  11. Scott,

    Thanks for the post. It provides a good overview of this topic and the breadth of views on Adam’s relationship with God prior to the Fall.

    As one who graduated from a seminary with the word ‘covenant’ in its name I must say that in recent years my eyes have been opened to the historical views of the covenant of works that were skirted at that school.

    For instance I found your review of Gerard Van Gronigen’s book Messianic Revelation in the Old Testament and was surprised to learn that the covenant of works was omitted. He was one of my professors.

    More recently I learned that another professor of mine, C. John Collins, has been flagged for the same thing – see this review in Modern Reformation:

    More recently another professor has been cited for the same thing:

    Finally, O. Palmer Robertson’s book The Christ of the Covenants comes under serious scrutiny by Mike Horton in his work, Introducing Covenant Theology – We used Palmer’s book as our introduction to covenant theology.

    Of course, the common link is John Murray who didn’t like the language of a covenant of works and sought to recast Adam’s relationship to God prior to the fall as a covenant of life.

    This short summary is not meant to run down anyone but rather to supplement your post. Indeed, what has been passed along as covenant theology for the last few decades is a deviation of what was historically understood (for instance, see Charles Hodges’ commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith). When we start tinkering with Adam’s relationship with God changing it from form of probation (with blessings and curses) to something else, we shouldn’t be surprised that things like federal vision theology come into play.

  12. On the topic of republication I have noticed that some seem to think it is against the WCF. However, it appears that Robert Shaw (from his exposition of the WCF p195)) did not:

    It may be remarked that the law of the ten commandments was promulgated to Israel from Sinai in the form of a covenant of works. Not that it was the design of God to renew a covenant of works with Israel or to put them upon seeking life by their own obedience to the law but the law was published to them as a covenant of works to show them that without a perfect righteousness answering to all the demands of the law they could not be justified before God and that finding themselves wholly destitute of that righteousness they might be excited to take hold of the covenant of grace in which a perfect righteousness for their justification is graciously provided. The Sinai transaction was a mixed dispensation. In it the covenant of grace was published as appears from these words in the preface standing before the commandments “I am the Lord thy God which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt out of the house of bondage” and from the promulgation of the ceremonial law at the sametime But the moral law as a covenant of works was also displayed to convince the Israelites of their sinfulness and misery to teach them the necessity of an atonement and lead them to embrace by faith the blessed Mediator the Seed promised to Abraham in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed. The law therefore was published at Sinai as a covenant of works in subservience to the covenant of grace And the law is still published in subservience to the gospel as a schoolmaster to bring sinners to Christ that they may be justified by faith Gal iii 24

    • Thank you Sean. What Shaw wrote in the first half of the 19th century was understood to be a mainstream Reformed view. The fact that there is outrage over this doctrine illustrates how far removed we have become from our own tradition.

  13. Sean quoted Shaw:
    The law therefore was published at Sinai as a covenant of works in subservience to the covenant of grace And the law is still published in subservience to the gospel as a schoolmaster to bring sinners to Christ that they may be justified by faith

    This is helpful to me, in that it shows that the CoW at Sinai was not a CoW in the sense that it was meant to be a means of justification.

    My understanding of this is admittedly somewhat limited, but I understand that there was a pre-fall CoW, and a post-fall CoG. This understanding of republication does not seem at all unreasonable or unBiblical to me (especially given Shaw’s “subservience to the covenant of grace” comment). Is this understanding correct, in your opinion? I realize that it might be a bit simplistic.

  14. Dr. Clark,

    I have been trying to search for the older divines’ understanding that the Moral Law had to be republished in the Mosaic Covenant because man’s rampant wickedness created a situation of forgetfulness in terms of the law upon the conscience and the original Adamic Covenant – a kind of Romans 1:18-ff deal. I remember someone mentioning this and reading it in one of my classes and was wondering if you knew.

    Also, I have recently heard of Dr. Strimple’s rebuttal to the claim that the republication thesis is in the WCF 19. Has anyone responded to his work specifically?

    Thank you!

    • Timothy,

      1. I’m not aware of anything by Bob on this.

      2. Yes, I think I’ve seen what you describe, the law was republished as a reminder etc. That’s a variation on an idea widely held in the classical period of Reformed theology, that the Mosaic law was republished as a pedagogue to Christ. For leads see the footnotes in “Christ and Covenant: Federal Theology in Orthodoxy,” in Herman Selderhuis, ed., Companion to Reformed Orthodoxy (Leiden: Brill, 2013). See also the republication category on the HB for possible leads.

      The section on republication in the Marrow, chapter 2, is probably what you want.

  15. I am very interested in this controversy. I came across this doctrine in some of my historical readings, and had no idea it was being debated today. Who are some of the people involved?

    • Hi David,

      Here’s a place to start. There’s a three-part series on the first page (scroll down a bit). Then work through the rest of the resources (posts, quotes, podcasts). That should help.

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