Witsius On Merit

I.I.XV. In the covenant of works, man is considered as working, and the reward to be given as of debt; and therefore man’s glorying is not excluded, but he may glory as a faithful servant may do upon the right discharge of his duty, and may claim the reward promised to his working. In the covenant of grace, man in himself ungodly is considered in the covenant, as believing; and eternal life is considered as the merit of the mediator, and as given to man out of free grace, which excludes all boasting, besides the glorying of the believing sinner in God, as his merciful Saviour.

I.IX.XVI. The second thing, which we said, § II. was immutable in the covenant of works, was this; that eternal life was not obtainable on any other condition but that of perfect obedience: as may thus be invincibly proved: for, by virtue of this general rule, it was necessary for Christ to be made under the law, Gal. iv. 4. and fulfil all righteousness, and that for this end, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled, Rom. viii. 4. But if this righteousness had not been sacred and inviolable, Christ would have been under no necessity to submit to the covenant of the law, in order to merit eternal life for his people. This therefore is evident, that there ought to be a merit of perfect obedience on which a right to eternal life may be founded. Nor is it material whether that perfect obedience be performed by man himself, or by his surety.

Herman Witsius | Economy Of The Covenants


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One comment

  1. It’s interesting that Witsius is so dependent on the language of Romans 4 in that first paragraph.

    It is striking to me that whenever Paul raises the question of “according to debt/works”/”according to grace” in such passages, he dismisses the former, not because an “according to debt” relationship is ex natura impossible to conceive of in relation to God, but because of the presence of sin. This always seems to me a considerable obstacle for those who want to argue against the propriety of a works covenant or conceptions of “merit”.

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