Heidelcast 104: Recovering The Covenant Of Works (4)

Remember our definition of the covenant of works. It was that legal arrangement into which God voluntarily condescended to enter and by which he promised eternal blessedness to Adam, on the condition that Adam by personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience should keep God’s holy law, love him with all his faculties and his neighbor as himself. This was called a covenant of works because Adam had to perform certain works of obedience, under the terms of the covenant, in order to merit a final state of blessedness with God. It has also been called the covenant of nature, with the setting in view, the covenant of life, with the intended outcome in view, and the legal covenant, with the standard in view. In this episode we’re concluding by thinking about how we lost the doctrine of the covenant of works and what we can do to recover it.

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  1. Thanks for all these great posts. I really don’t understand who denies a covenant of works. Without it there is no sin, judgment and salvation in Christ, right? Who is denying a covenant of works and why? Doing so seems to overthrow the entire fall and covenant of grace in its wake.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    In this last broadcast you spoke at some length with regards to the intent and nature of the Reformed confessional documents and how subscription to the documents ought to function. I have a question that is related to both subscription and the Covenant of Works, but maybe a little off topic.

    Some reformed folks in the 16th century, Such as Robert Rollock in his catechism, believe that Adam was created in a covenant condition where there was no time when Adam was not in covenant of works with God before the fall. There are some modern reformed ministers that would affirm this same doctrine, such as M. G. Kline and C. Van Till. There are others in history and modern times that would say that there must be some “day-light” between Adam’s creation and God’s special act of providence where God established the Covenant of works. Usually the concept of merit and the concept of man’s autonomy with regards to interpreting revelation are at play in the arguments.

    I am personally persuaded that Adam was created in a covenant works situation, not created out-side of a covenant relationship then at a later time placed into the covenant works . It seems to me the WCF, WLC, and WSC taken as a whole actually teaches that Adam was Created with the Law written on his hart as a covenant of works, and at the very least be read to allow for this.

    Yet, I have been told that WCF 7.1 does not allow this creation-covenant position and that the historical positions of the church that guided the language of 7.1 explicitly deny that Adam was created in the covenant of works.

    Is it true that this ancient position is not taught in the WCF, based on a careful reading of chapter 7.1? If so, would a candidate for the ministry who holds to the position that Adam was created in covenant be within confessional boundaries if he took exception to 7.1?

    Thank you,


    • Jesse,

      I do not know that the divines intended to comment on this issue. I am agnostic myself on this question. I am not sure how we could know with certainty what was the case.

      To be frank, I have been puzzle for sometime as to why some are so adamant about one side or the other. I have yet to see what is at stake in this discussion.

  3. As far as I can tell there is one side (A – the creation separate from covenant) that is adamant that the other side (B – the creation tightly bound to covenant) is not orthodox. So side B responds to the contrary. Also it appears to me that side B is often held by those who also hold some form of republication, and that is also considered not so orthodox by many of side A . I don’t see many on side B who go on the attack, but try telling someone who identifies as a “Covenanter” that Creation was the voluntary condescension and you may get exiled from the land. That is what I have seen. I apologize if that is a crude generalization.

    • Jesse,

      Well, I hold to a version of republication and I can’t see how the exact moment of the institution of the covenant of works (i.e., instituted at the moment of creation or at sometime thereafter) affects the doctrine.

  4. Not accusing anyone here at all of what I am about to say. All this bickering leaves such a bitter distaste in the mouth of many looking into the Reformed Faith. Seeking to have convictions on the revealed word is great but all the splits and debate over things not revealed get so loathsome. As someone who has struggled to leave evangelicalism and embrace Reformed circles I always wondered why so many who make so much of the doctrines of “grace” exhibit so little of it. There are so many little Reformed church bodies who all profess strong commitments to the same Standards yet always remain divided, and usually over tertiary things. I appreciate learning about the bible and theology, and I really like Dr. Clark for not falling prey to that behavior. This blog and his podcasts are great, as are those who contribute on them as guests and in the forums. However, many folks Ive encountered in Reformed circles engage in elitist intellectual pursuits, many times over things not even revealed in the bible makes me long for the leeks and onions of a simpler faith and graciousness, but I know I can’t go back. Ugh. Again, not pointing any fingers. I just don’t understand how the concept of a covenant of works, do this and live is even debatable. It seems so simple and clear. Without it there is no sin, grace and salvation. How would sin be sin without it?

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