In my previous post, I outlined part 1 of Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication (hereafter MM), a response by three OPC pastors to The Law is Not of Faith (hereafter TLNF).

Today I will outline part 2 of the book which examines how the Republication Paradigm (hereafter RP) has redefined merit.

1. What is the thesis of part 2? (pp. 41-42)

The thesis of part 2 is that in trying to combat Norman Shepherd’s teaching, Meredith Kline and his followers in TLNF swung too far in the opposite direction resulting in the Republication Paradigm (RP) and a redefinition of the traditional Westminster concept of merit in the covenant of works with Adam, and in the Mosaic covenant with Israel.

2. Why is this so important? (41-42)

It’s important because the RP affirms that a type of merit is possible on the part of fallen humanity as opposed to the traditional view that rejected any possibility for merit on the part of sinful people after the fall.

3. What is the traditional view of “merit”? (43)

In traditional Reformed theology, merit is defined as any work to which a reward is due from justice on account of its intrinsic value and worth and requires two essential things:

  • Moral perfection, and
  • Ontological equality

4. Can humanity merit blessing or favor from God?  (43-46)

Regarding moral perfection, yes before the fall but no after the fall because no sinner can render personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience to God and therefore merit any kind of blessing from God – temporal or eternal.

Regarding ontological equality, never because there is such an infinite distance between God and humanity, the Creature and the creator.

5. What does RP teach about this? (46-48)

By redefining the traditional concept of merit, the RP says that Adam could in strict justice merit favor before the fall and that certain OT figures (including Noah, Abraham, and Israel) did merit some outward blessings of this life in the promised land.

6. In what way does the RP redefine the concept of merit? (49ff)

In contrast to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), the RP redefines the concept of merit by doing away with the two requirements for merit – moral perfection and ontological equality.

7. How does the WCF put ontological equality at the center of covenant theology? (49-52)

In its preface to the section dealing with the covenant of works, the WCF emphasizes the infinite ontological difference between God and humanity in order to show that man owed God obedience before the fall as a creature without God owing humanity anything in return (WCF 7.1). Therefore the covenant of works was a “voluntary condescension” on God’s part to allow acts of obedience already owed to God without right of reward to actually merit eternal life.

8. Is there any difference between Adam’s possible merit in the covenant of works and Christ’s actual merit in the covenant of grace? (52-58).

Adam’s merit is often called covenant merit (it was a merit that God graciously covenanted to let Adam earn). This is a lesser category than Christ’s merit, often called strict merit, which he perfectly rendered to God’s perfect justice in the covenant of grace.

In Adam’s case, God condescended to reward a lesser being, a creature, in the covenant of works (covenant merit), whereas Christ’s obedience was not only perfect but from someone with ontological equality with God and thus his merit is called strict merit.

9. Why did the RP redefine merit? (59-60)

Norman Shepherd rejected the concept of merit in any of God’s covenantal dealings with humanity, including the covenant of works, by appealing to the ontological disproportion between man and God.

Overreacting against this rejection of merit anywhere, Kline went too far in the other direction, adding merit where it has no place by reformulating the idea of merit apart from ontological considerations.

10. How did the RP redefine merit? (61-65)

The RP redefined merit in three steps:

  • They conflated and collapsed creation and covenant together by teaching that man is in covenant with God at the moment of creation, leaving no logical space for a voluntary condescension of God as creator to become God the covenanter.
  • The covenant of works is therefore devoid of any divine kindness, grace, or love but is simply a matter of strict and simple justice.
  • Merit and justice are determined without any reference to ontology.

11. What are the consequences of this? (66-69)

This means that in the RP only the terms of a particular covenant may decide what is “just” and “meritorious.” In other words merit is what God says it is in any particular covenant arrangement, which may be perfection (as in the covenant with Adam) or it may be something less than perfection (as in the Mosaic covenant).

So, for example, in the Mosaic covenant, God may decide to make an arrangement in which he promises temporal-typological blessings on the basis of Israel’s imperfect , sincere, national obedience instead of the perfect entire, and personal obedience which was required of the two covenant heads, Adam and Christ.

In summary it means the merit can be defined apart from any ontological considerations and does not even require moral perfection on the part of man.

12. Does that mean that Mosaic Covenant is a covenant of works? (70-72)

No and yes.

No, in the sense that in the Mosaic covenant there is a grace level for the eternal salvation of the individual.

Yes, in the sense that there is a national meritorious works level for the retention of temporal earthly blessings in the promised land, which is a type of the kingdom of heaven.

On this latter level, the Mosaic covenant is continuous with the covenant of works pre-fall and is discontinuous with the Abrahamic covenant.

13. Are there any other ways in which the RP modifies the Mosaic covenant? (73-74)

Yes, first of all, Israel is elevated to the status of being a corporate Adam that undergoes a “covenant of works probation” in a garden/land analogous to the first and last Adam. As the authors of TLNF put it, both of God’s sons, Adam and Israel lived under law-governed circumstances.

And second, Israel’s Adamic status serves a teaching purpose, demonstrating that through her inability to obey God’s law and merit an earthly inheritance, that she cannot earn salvation by her works, and needs the imputation of Christ’s active obedience.

14. In what sense then does the Mosaic covenant involve a republication of the covenant of works with Adam? (75)

Both Adam and Israel are under a covenant of works in the sense that both Adam’s and Israel’s obedience can merit blessings from God. For Adam it was eternal blessing. For Israel it was temporal blessing.

15. Did Israel succeed and keep this covenant? (76)

There seems to be some confusion here with some supporters of RP saying yes an others saying no. Some say that God did not enforce the works principle strictly and sometimes gave the temporal reward for relative (imperfect) obedience.

16. So what’s the problem here? (76-78)

The problem is “How can God make a covenant of works with sinners in which he must lower the bar of his righteousness and accept imperfect obedience as the basis for earning his favor?”

In the traditional paradigm, God can never be placed in a sinner’s debt. He can never be in a position or enter into a covenantal arrangement which requires that he justly reward the sin-tainted works of fallen man.

Tomorrow we will look at part 3 of Merit and Moses which exposes the instability of the republication paradigm, and then I’ll offer an assessment of the book.

  • Christopher Caughey

    To which “tradition” is the phrase “the traditional view of ‘merit’” referring? And why is it such a scandalous idea that the text of Scripture ought to provide the concrete, time-space terms of a particular covenant?

    • R. Martin Snyder

      There are plenty of references to help you understand what is meant by the terminology “the traditional view of ‘merit’” in the booklet Chris. I also believe it is addressed in the video I link to in the comments of the first blog. I believe it is in reference to Augustine’s view as a starting point which the Reformed Tradition adopted. The booklet addresses Covenant Merit and strict or proper merit. I post a part of the discussion here which also addresses some of the questions you bring up in the first blog post.

      Be patient and read the booklet. I think it will be a blessing to your soul.

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  • Richard Tallach

    It’s a theological “dog’s breakfast”.

  • Martin

    Hello David,
    You asked the question as to whether the Law is a covenant of works. To this you replied: “No, in the sense that in the Mosaic covenant there is a grace level for the eternal salvation of the individual”.
    Could you please explain this? What is that grace? Who received it? and if it is only Christ that received it, was he saved by grace (as we are) or his perfection demonstrated by strict observance of the whole Law?

    Thanks you,

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