Heidelcast 103: Recovering The Covenant Of Works (3)

The doctrine of the covenant of works was taught by the Dutch, the Germans, the French, the Swiss, the English, the Scots, and the Irish. It was taught in the 1560s (it was arguably implied in the 1561 Belgic Confession’s phrase “commandment of life” in art. 14) and all through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. It was confessed unequivocally ten times by the Westminster Divines in the 1640s, an assembly composed of Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Congregationalists. It was reaffirmed by the Congregationalists in 1658 in the Savoy Declaration and again by the German and French-speaking Swiss in the Helvetic Formula of Agreement in 1675.  As we saw last time, the terms of the covenant were relatively simple. To use the language of our Lord in Luke 10:28, “do this and live.” In the terms of Leviticus 18:5, “if a man does these, he shall live by them.”  This doing, this law keeping, is a covenant of works. Adam was able to keep the law because he was created in righteousness and true holiness. Mysterious, tragically, he refused and plunged himself and us into sin and death. This is how the Reformed tradition, until very recently, understood covenant theology.

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  1. Thanks for everything you do! Do you make a distinction between Adam as created in the image of God, and the obedience due him in virtue of that, and God’s subsequent providential revelation to him, in the form of a covenantal promise of blessing, or life, upon obedience.

    • Hi Dan,

      Thanks. If you’re asking about my views, personally, I agree with the Westminster Standards. Some hold that Adam was in a covenant of works at the moment of his creation and others that God made the covenant of works later. I’m agnostic. It’s one of those inferences that isn’t entirely clear or inevitable.

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