Seven Short Points About Republication

Witsius On Republication

The (re)republication of a book on the question of the republication of the covenant of works under Moses has hit the Reformed interwebs. Follow the link above for quotes from Reformed sources, audio, and posts explaining the history, the current controversy, and possible ways forward. Earlier today I had an email asking about my views. Here it is in bullet points.

  1. The Mosaic (old) covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace.
  2. Adam would have entered into glory by virtue of his obedience to the prelapsarian covenant of works but after the fall only Christ was born sinless and able to meet the terms of that covenant.
  3. The moral law reflects the divine nature and was first given in creation and later re-stated in temporary, typological, theocratic, Israelite terms at Sinai.
  4. The covenant of works was republished at Sinai in order to:
    1. Teach the Israelites (and us) the greatness of their (and our) sin and misery and thereby to show them (and us) their (and our) need for the Savior and thus to point them (and us) to Christ (pedagogical use)
    2. Serve, in both tables, as the norm for Israelite civil life and to serve, in the second table, as the norm civil life after the expiration of the Israelite theocracy (civil use).
    3. Serve, insofar as it is a summary of the moral law, as the moral norm for the Israelites and new covenant Christians (normative use)
  5. The old covenant was expressed in legal terms, to wit, there are places in the OT that say that Israelite tenure in the land and national status was conditioned upon their obedience to the law and that the reason for their expulsion from the land and loss of national status was disobedience to the law. Inasmuch, however, as Israel broke the covenant before Moses descended the mountain and disobeyed God’s law repeatedly and yet remained in the land and retained their national status for as long as they did, it must have been by grace.
  6. In the old covenant two things were happening simultaneously: a typological, pedagogical, formally legal (but not strictly legal) administration of the covenant of works (see #4 above) and an administration of the covenant of grace in which sinners were justified and saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
  7. In the new covenant that law, in both tables, stripped of its Israelite, typological features (e.g., land tenure, saturday sabbath), remains as a perpetual, universal norm for all humans.

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  1. Are these views the same as others who are labelled as republicationists or is there wide variation?

    • Jesse,

      I think that the those points are fairly representative of a wide swath of Reformed thought in the 17th century. There were a lot of points of view. Here is Samuel Bolton’s survey of 17th-century opinion.

      Take a look at (and listen to) the resources linked in the post.

  2. What I find ironic is that those denying a republication of the covenant of works at Sinai (pick your variation) conclude that to hold to that doctrine blurs works and grace and brings a works principle into the new covenant. And just where is the evidence for that other than their own reasonings? Not in the teachings of the authors who wrote The Law Is Not Of Faith.

  3. Commenting on the New Covenant, William Ames said:

    4. The testament is new in relation to what existed from the time of Moses and in relation to the promise made to the fathers. But it is new not in essence but in form. In the former circumstances the form of administration gave some evidence of the covenant of works, from which this testament is essentially different. (Ames, The Marrow of Theology, 206 (XXXVIII:4)

    Note the words “some evidence of the covenant of works.” Sound familiar? 🙂

  4. Dr Clark, does the nation of Israel serve as a type for the individual christian life (Israel was redeemed from slavery in egypt, a christian is saved from slavery to sin, etc…)? If so, then would a covenant of works principle be the best explantion of the mosaic covenant? Their explusion from the land would then be because they proved to be unbelievers rather than disobedience, just as a christian’s disqualification from glory is not due to disobedience, but rather unbelief. It seems like if Israel was under a covenant of works, even typologically, then that seems to introduce a works principle into justification. Maybe my supposition of Israel being analogous to the christian life is wrong though.

    • Eric,

      We have to remember the dual character of the old covenant administration of the covenant of grace. Insofar as it was characterized by legal conditionality, being under a guardian/schoolmaster, no. Insofar as Israel was the church, looking forward to Christ, yes.

      The problem comes, in my view, from overlooking the dual character of the administration.

  5. Hebrews 3, the NT commentary on the OC, links unbelief with disobedience as the reason for their failure to enter God’s rest. This was more than losing their earthly life – this was falling away from the Living God- failing to enter the eschatological rest. So yes, the OT land is a picture of heaven and will be forfeited by unbelief. The same warning and application rings true for the NT covenant community, just as it did for those Hebrews suffering persecution in the 1st century.

  6. This is so much more complicated than “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. I’m wondering how, in our day, people can be persuaded that “republication of the Covenant of Works” (much less the Covenant of Works itself) is an important topic to understand.

  7. Good question John. I tempted to say in a day and age that denies the CoW, cf. Barth, Berkouwer, Hoeksema, Schilder the FV, it’s a corollary of Act. 20:27 and the necessity of teaching the whole counsel of God.

  8. “4. The covenant of works was republished at Sinai in order to…C.Serve as the moral norm for the Israelites and new covenant Christians (normative use)”

    Dr. Clark, I think you mean that the moral law is the norm for the new covenant Christian and not the “covenant of works” as such? Or rather in “republishing” the covenant of works, the moral law in the form of the Ten Commandments, is the norm. The moral law is not the covenant of works as such.

    I do understand the limitation of writing something in summary form, so this is not a criticism but a seeking of clarification for my better understanding.

    thanks for your efforts and irenic spirit,

    • Shawn,

      I agree with the Marrow of Modern Divinity on this (listen to Heidelcast episodes 71 and 72 as well as earlier episodes on this) that the same law has multiple functions simultaneously. When the law was preached to the Israelites, the unbeliever in the visible covenant community, was under the covenant of works—not that he could fulfill it!—in that the law said to him: do this and live. The believer has already laid hold of another’s obedience, by faith, and that obedience has already satisfied the demands of the law as a covenant of works. Thus, to the believer, the law is never a covenant of works but a norm.

      The law has three uses and the civil use and the normative use continue to apply to the believer. According to the catechism, even the third use has an elenctic element in that it reminds us of our sins and drives us back to Christ. So, as I said in the Heidelcasts and as I’ve said here, the believer is never under the covenant of works. He cannot be. The covenant of works has been satisfied for him by Christ his substitute.

      I tried to write a brief summary, in part, to reply to the complaint that the doctrine is too complicated. If a version of it can be articulated in 330 or so words, it’s not that complicated.

      One of the more unfounded allegations against any version of republication has been that it eliminates the moral law as the abiding norm for the Christian, i.e., that any version of republication is inherently antinomian. I hope that this brief outline shows that is not true and neither is it neonomian, i.e., it does not put the believer under the covenant of works for acceptance with God.

      In view of your question I’ve added a bit to 4.c. to clarify:

      Serve, insofar as it is a summary of the moral law, as the moral norm for the Israelites and new covenant Christians (normative use)

      I hope that helps.

    • Shawn,

      Q. 93. What is the moral law?
      A. The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul, and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.

      “The moral law is not the covenant of works as such.”

      But then again, is the moral law disconnected from the covenant of works? Q 93 would seem to answer in the negative. Jesus was born under the law as a covenant of works (they were connected) which he fulfilled and as such is the basis for the righteousness offered by grace in the covenant of grace and received through faith in Christ. So we can then say that those in Christ, by grace, have met the requirements of the law as a C of W.

    • Dr. Clark, Your response was most helpful: “When the law was preached to the Israelites, the unbeliever in the visible covenant community, was under the covenant of works—not that he could fulfill it!—in that the law said to him: do this and live. The believer has already laid hold of another’s obedience, by faith, and that obedience has already satisfied the demands of the law as a covenant of works. Thus, to the believer, the law is never a covenant of works but a norm.”

      That is almost the way I have been describing the situation for over ten years. But I never used the word “republication” and still think that an unhelpful rubric. So….does that make me a republicationist?

      This leads to the next part of your helpful summary: 4.B “Serve, in both tables, as the norm for Israelite civil life and to serve, in the second table, a [sic] the norm civil life after the expiration of the Israelite theocracy (civil use).”

      Question about 4.B. Can one hold to republication without holding to 4.B? In other words, still promote the first table (to varying degrees and modified for modern society to be sure) as useful for civil life?

      As an important aside: this and other posts have been very helpful even after reading a few books and essays in the Confessional Presbyterian. I encourage you to persevere in your explanations.

  9. Are you saying that the moral law/norm in 4.C. is subsumed under the covenant of works in point #4? So the moral law/norm in 4.C. is not subsumed under the covenant of grace?

    • Nicholas,

      1. No Christian is ever under the covenant of works for acceptance with God. Full stop.

      2. When I say

      Serve, insofar as it is a summary of the moral law, as the moral norm for the Israelites and new covenant Christians (normative use)

      I’m trying to articulate exactly what Jack quotes from the WCF above. As I wrote to Shawn above, the law always does multiple things simultaneously. The moral law is the norm for the believer but it is never, for the believer, a covenant of works for acceptance with God. The substance of the covenant of works, however, is the moral law. The same law that was given to Adam was given to Israel and Sinai and is repeated in the New Covenant as well.

      Subpoints A, B, and C are merely the classic and confessional three uses of the moral law.

    • I do not know if I phrased my question that well. I want to make sure. So I will rephrase it.

      Should I read in the above as follows:

      “4.The covenant of works was republished at Sinai in order to: Serve as the moral norm for the Israelites and new covenant Christians (normative use).”

      I took out “insofar as it is a summary of the moral law” so I may pinpoint what I am asking.

      The covenant of works serves as a moral norm for new covenant Christians?

      Am I reading this correctly?

  10. Ok. Sorry if my questions are more basic than not, but I am happy to see a new thread about repub (RPB?) since the older ones are not alive to converse on.
    I have read a few things on it recently since our elder came back from the OPC GA talking like it was going to be the next ‘big thing’ since FV and NPP. I am hoping someone can help me get a better handle on it all.i have a few questions.

    If one is a RPB fan, is that a denial that the mosaic covenant contains a part of the CoG?

    Whose position, if any, claims that it contains both COG and CoW components? And what is a problem with it being stated that way?

    Is it NOT RPB if one thinks the CoG is there, but “made subservient” to the CoG?

    Is this ultimately about law/gospel distinctions?

    It am getting a sense that law/gospel, 2K, and RPB are all tied together, and possibly amil as well, is this inaccurate?
    Thank you

  11. Hi ,thank you. Some of the ‘seven’ above do answer my questions, but I wanted you to know that the link you provided in response, as well as the link in the article, are both taking me directly to this same article. Is that supposed to happen?
    Thank you

  12. Thank you so much! I have already had most of my questions answered, and there is still so much to read. I am surprised at how ongoing this topic is. I know the last OPC GA formed a committee to address republication issues. I am slightly worried about how that will pan out, since there seem to be some influential TEs that are not fans of republication.
    Btw, if I have more questions when reading, should i Inquire on the particular thread post, or can I return here to post since this is most recent?
    Thank you,
    Brian Johnson

  13. Dr.Coppes, a student of Kline, wrote a small tract against the ‘new’ republication/2kingdoms models. Most of his contention is with Kline. I do not know Kline well enough to agree or disagree, but I was wondering if you would comment on whether you see a ‘Klinean’ strand of republication, whether the ‘new’ view is just the often-forgotten old view, historically speaking, and how 2 kingdom theology ties in, since the pro/anti camps seem to divide the same way over this as the 2K topic.
    Finally, if you might care to speak for others, what does the non-RPB position look like, in reformed guise? I have only seen attacks against it, but what position is being defended I have not yet seen.
    Thank you

  14. To clarify: I read your post on the history of RPB, so what I am wondering is, if you do recognize a strand attributed to Kline, is that strand actually ‘new’ or does it only seem new because few are aware these days of the actual history as you presented it?
    Thank you

    • Brian,

      There’s a lot of debate about what in MGK’s formulation is novel. What is perhaps most controversial in MGK’s formulation is the idea that there’s any sort of merit to Israel’s tenure in the land and national status. Another controversial idea is the connection between Adam and Israel, as if Israel was a sort of Adam in the garden again. Neither of these is about salvation or justification but there are critics who are very unhappy about these features. Then, too, there are critics who reject any notion of republication whatever.

      I don’t know yet whether the more controversial aspects of MGK’s scheme are well represented in the Reformed tradition. I’m quite confident that the Reformed have taught a variety of versions of republication and I think the 7 points represent a mainstream version that most of the tradition would have understood and supported.

      I have come to doubt whether it’s helpful to speak of Israel meriting land tenure or national status but I also think that implicit in that way of speaking is a distinction between two types of merit. It’s not clear to me that everyone involved in the discussion is aware of the distinction between condign merit and congruent merit. Condign merit is intrinsically worthy. Jesus’ obedience was intrinsically worthy. We stand before God on the basis of the imputation of his condign merit. We deny that sinners are capable of condign merit. Whether Adam was capable of condign merit before the fall is a matter of debate. Congruent merit is literally “the merit of agreement” or covenantal merit, whereby God has agreed to impute perfection to something that is imperfect. Pelagianizing medieval Franscican theologians in the 14th century taught justification on the basis of congruent merit. The Reformation rejected this utterly. I think MGK’s view of Israel’s land tenure and national status assumes congruent merit. Whether it’s wise to think or speak this way is a matter of debate. I find this way of dealing with the issue less attractive than I might have done 20+ years ago but I don’t think it’s terribly damaging to Reformed theology. Were we talking about justification and salvation, that would be a different matter.

      If you look at the quotes from Hodge, Berkhof, and Shaw linked above in the Republication category one can see arguably some precedent for what MGK was saying. Hodge wrote:

      …the promise was national security and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect it was a legal covenant. It said, “Do this and live.”

      and Berkhof wrote:

      It is true that at Sinai a conditional element was added to the covenant, but it was not the salvation of the Israelite but his theocratic standing in the nation, and the enjoyment of external blessings that was made dependent on the keeping of the law, Deut. 28:1-14.

      Unless we’re willing to write out/off Berkhof and Hodge (and I’m not) then I don’t see how we can say that this approach is beyond the pale.

  15. Thank you.
    It makes me wonder about Christ’s perfect Active obedience: obedient to what? The Mosaic Law, the CoW, the Edenic Law, all of the above? It seems to be a clear need to acknowledge that Something needed to be merited. Obviously, Jesus did merit it, Adam did not. As far as Israel, I am not sure what it does to say “Israel did not either” and then make what they could have but did not merit merely typological ( land promises/curses as pointing to ultimate salvific blessings/curses), instead of saying they could not because they were in Adam. But then I get confused, because while I know that it was not possible for Israel to merit salvation through obedience to the Law, I still need there to be Something in the MC that Christ did actually MERIT by His obedience, right?
    Am I taking things in the wrong direction here?
    Thank you

    • Brian,

      Certainly Jesus actively obeyed all of God’s law for all his elect. He was born “under the law” for us and satisfied it for us. In so doing he did what Adam refused to do, what Israel, under the typological, pedagogical republication of the law, refused to do. That law came to expression in the covenant of works, under Moses in the 613 commandments, and in nature. It’s all essentially the same law, although the Mosaic expression was typological and temporary and insofar as it was so, it has been fulfilled and has expired (WCF 19). The moral law, shorn of its Israelite/Mosaic features remains in force, as it has always been, for the believer as the norm for the Christian and generally as the natural/moral law for all image bearers and in the 2nd table as the civil law for all.

      If we say that Moses and Israel, i.e., the entire old covenant worked (illustrated, pointed to) for Jesus, then it seems sufficient to say that Jesus fulfilled the law. He is the true Israel of God but I don’t think that he was under obligation to recapitulate the whole history of Israel. Her job as the temporary, typological people was to point to him. His advent gives significance to their history, not the reverse.

  16. Much appreciated. I was seeing a difference between ‘Christ fulfilled the obligations of the OC’ , and ‘Christ fulfilled the typological obligations of the OC’. But your response gave me that needed ‘doh!’ ; obviously Christ fulfills typological obligations- in the sacrifices! What they needed to obey WAS a typological obligation, the blood of animals did NOT merit forgiveness of sins, but through the obligation of the act they were typically reminded of their need and it’s impending fulfillment, all of which Christ fulfilled And if that is accurate, then it follows that the other typological elements operate the same way, even the land promises, insofar as they typified the requirement of obedience and through that obligation reminded them again of their inability and need, again, all of which Christ fulfilled. I hope that makes sense. Thank you for that.
    Re: not obligated to recapitulate the whole history of Israel. What is the purpose then of those elements where he Did recapitulate; coming out of Egypt, the tempting in the wilderness, etc.?
    Thank you

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