Heidelcast 49: Making Some Sense of The Republication Debate Pt 2: With Chris Gordon

Parts of the confessional Reformed world in North America are in the midst of a controversy over whether it is biblical, confessional, and historically Reformed to teach that the Mosaic covenant was, in some sense, a republication of the covenant of works. Last week we took a 30 minute trip through the history of Reformed theology in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, in the British Isles, Europe, and the USA and found orthodox a wide range of Reformed writers teaching various versions of republication. If, e.g., Perkins, Witisus, Boston, the Westminster Confession, Hodge, Shaw, and Berkhof taught some or part of what is now considered, by some, to be a controversial notion—even that Israel’s tenure in the land was contingent upon their obedience—and they aren’t regarded as anything but orthodox, why is the the doctrine of republication so controversial right now? Chris Gordon, pastor of the Escondido URC and host of Abounding Grace Radio joins me to work through the theological, pastoral, and ecclesiastical issues.

You will want to stay tuned for episode 50 for the conclusion of our discussion.

Here’s episode 49:

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  1. Dr Clark, what is the actual debate about?

    The 19th chapter of the WCF basically says that God republished the covenant he made with Adam in the Mosaic covenant.

    “1.God gave Adam a law as a covenant of works. He required Adam and all his descendants to obey this law, individually, completely, perpetually, and in precise accordance with its provisions. God promised life for keeping it and threatened death for disobeying it, and he gave man the power and ability to keep it.

    2.After the fall this law continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness and was given, as such, by God on Mount Sinai in the Ten Commandments, written on two tablets.”

    To me, the phrase “after the fall THIS law CONTINUED TO BE” seems to indicate that the WCF teaches republication.

    I feel as though I might be missing something though. Could you help me out with this?

    • Brad

      I think that’s eisegesis of the Confession. This law would also continue to be a perfect rule of righteousness in the Covenant of Grace – since the law is moral.

      After the fall, is significant language, since we can only receive the law within a COG as sinners. In fact, that’s how God’s covenant people received the law at Sinai. There may be a pedagogical function of this law in displaying the holiness of God and pointing the Israelites to Christ.

      I don’t think the WCF 19.2 is addressing the covenantal function of the law. It simply states what’s true of the law under every covenantal arrangement – that it continues to be a perfect rule of righteousness.

  2. Hi Dr. Clark and Heidleblog readers,

    I have noticed a “Brad Jones” commenting on your blog and I have even been asked about “my” comments here. I would just like to clarify here that he is a different “Brad Jones” than the Brad Jones (me) who graduated from WSCAL in 2010.

    I hope other Brad Jones will not think I am making any insinuation about any of his comments. I simply hope to preserve our distinct identities online, though we can proudly share a great (though generic) name!

    Different Brad Jones

  3. This is so helpful. I’m reading The Marrow of Modern Divinity right now and can’t help but think that if the Marrow Men were alive today, many neo-Calvinists would oppose them.

  4. Michael, Ok. So… Then in what sense has the covenant with Law been republished? And what sense of republication is being debated?

    Dr. Clark, I have listened to part of it. I listened to the first part. And what I heard I agreed with. I am going to listen to the rest of it here in a second.

  5. WSCal Brad Jones,

    Is there a way I can identify myself or change the name that I use on this blog so that people do not accidentally confuse you for me?

    Being that you have much more of a connection to this blog and the people who read it than I do, it seems to make more sense for the burden of “name change” to be on me. Especially since I comment on it regularly.

    Maybe “BJones” or “Bradley J” or “BLJones” or “Bradley LJ”?

    I apologize for the confusion.

    • I think my comment above was the only time I have ever commented on the heidelblog. You can keep “Brad Jones”, I can stay different.

  6. Ok. I listened to the episode for this post.

    Yeah… One thing I am convinced of is that without the Covenant of Works–and Republication, which is how Christ fulfills the CoW–you pretty much lose the gospel. I just don’t see any way around that. I’m not the most knowledgeable person, so if any of you confessionalist folks have a different take on that, please help me out with this.

    I don’t know what to think of some of the aspects of the FV…but I do know that anytime the CoW is denied, everything else pretty mix goes to put.

    I agree with what this episode talks about. As someone who is/was outside of the Reformed/confessionalist world, the CoW was a very strange thing for me initially. I have chewed/studied on the CoW for several years. I have concluded that it’s an essential doctrine. Without a Reformed/confessionalist understanding of the CoW, you lose the gospel. That’s just my 2 cents though.

  7. Dr Clark, I think the FV folks have an odd trajectory/hermeutic. I don’t see myself embracing their views, but I am also hesitant to write them off. They don’t have a succinct, systematized theology in the way that Reformed folks traditionally do, so it is very difficult to classify and combat against what they are saying.

    I can see why some people believe they are not Reformed (in the strictest definition that you and many other confessionalists have of the word). I disagree, but I can see where you are coming from. I’m not the most knowledgeable about confessionalism, so me disagreeing with you or the people in “your camp” does not really mean much. I don’t know as much about confessionalism as I probably should.

    I see the FV folks like I see John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, etc. There are some things about their theology that is unhelpful, but there are also a lot of things they teach that are very helpful.

    I can see why people might hesitate to call the FV folks “Reformed.” It just seems odd to me that while they might not be “Reformed”, they are very likely our brothers in Christ. They are likely men for whom Christ shed his blood. I hear many people denouncing their theology, but I hear very few of those people acknowledging that they are also their brothers in Christ. Which troubles me.

    • Brad,

      In by baptism, stay in by cooperation with grace is not an odd trajectory. It is the Galatian heresy. I’m not kidding. I asked about truth and you respond with sociology.

      Have you read the major critiques of the FV? Do you understand what the FV movement is saying? Are there two kinds of election? Are people temporarily believers, temporarily united to Christ, temporarily elect? Does baptism work ex opera (sic)? That why Rich Lusk suggested (and that is how he spelled the Latin!)? Are we justified through faithfulness? (That’s Norm Shepherd’s doctrine) At the last day will we stand before God partly on the basis of imputed righteousness and partly on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity? That’s what Theo Hoekstra taught. Are there two ways of being in the one covenant of grace or only one way? Is the distinction history and eschatological or internal/external? (Witsius v Wilson)

      These are not matters of “trajectory” but matters of gospel truth. This is not about who is “in” and who is “out” (sociology; boundaries). This is about basic Christian truth.

      Here’s a resource for you:


  8. Dr. Clark, I listened twice and I want to make sure I understand: are you stating that the Mosaic covenant is not *only* an administration of the covenant of grace, but also an administration of the covenant of works? It sounded as if you were concurring with some prior theologians’ view that the Mosaic is a “mixed” covenant?

    I look forward to part 2 of your discussion, and am hoping that you and Rev. Gordon will get around to the main point of the current scholarly objections to the Klinean formulation that requires the presence of “merit” in the Mosaic covenant.

    • Frank,

      Did you listen to episode 48? I spent 30 minutes walking through a series of quotations from several Reformed writers from the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

      Yes, more than one orthodox Reformed writer has said that the Mosaic covenant was a mixed covenant. We’ve all said that it was an administration of the covenant of grace. On that there is no disagreement.

      Yes, we do discuss the question of merit in episode 50. Stay tuned.

  9. Yes, more than one orthodox Reformed writer has said that the Mosaic covenant was a mixed covenant.

    Yes, I did listen to episode 48 and your discussion of other Reformed writers. I was more interested if you fell among the view of the Mosaic being a “mixed” covenant (grace and works). I was pretty sure I heard you affirming it in episode in 49, but wanted to be sure, hence my question–which I don’t think y0u’ve clearly answered yet.

    Will look forward to hearing the discussion of merit! Thanks.

    • I have not said exactly what my views are–other than to say that the Mosaic covenant is an administration of the covenant of grace. I do think that the covenant of works was republished for pedagogical purposes, that is, to teach the Israelites the greatness of their sin and misery and to point them to Christ.

      Here is a sermon on Exodus 24:


      My main interest is in carving out space for the historic Reformed views over against those who would narrow what is permissible to say. I don’t want to live in a reformed world where Witsius, Hodge, Shaw, Berkhof, and others are considered heterodox.

  10. Hi Scott,

    I’m reading The Marrow of Modern Divinity right now and it seems that Fisher’s view was as follows:

    1. While the Mosaic Covenant was gracious, the law at Sinai was given to Israel in the form of the Covenant of Works.

    2. The Covenant stipulations at Horeb were not given in the form of a CoW, but as God’s demands in order for Israel to maintain her status in the land. Both believers and unbelievers were under the same stipulations, to the extent that even believing Moses was barred from the promised land. Nevertheless, while Moses experienced temporal judgement, he did not experience eternal judgement. If any unbelieving Jews experienced temporal judgement, it would be accompanied by eternal judgement. If these same Jews experienced temporal blessing, it would not be followed by eternal blessing since they were unbelievers.

    Have I fairly represented Fisher?

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