Over the last couple of days I’ve been outlining 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). You can read part one here and part two here. Today I look at the third and final main section of the book which looks at the instability of the Republication Paradigm (hereafter RP).

1. What was republished in the Mosaic covenant? (79-82)

All reformed believers understand that the same moral law given to Adam in the covenant of works was republished at Sinai in the Ten Commandments.

The RP goes further and says that the actual covenant of works was republished at Sinai, which is contrary to the vast majority of the Reformed tradition and the Westminster standards.

2. What does the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) say concerning the essential elements of the covenant of works?  (83-84)

The essential elements are the condition and the reward.

  • The condition or stipulation required of Adam was personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience to God’s law and the prohibition on eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
  • The reward is eternal life, with humanity having the fruition of God as their blessedness and reward.

3. So do we find these essential elements in the RP view of the covenant of works as republished in the Mosaic covenant? (84-85)

No, instead we find:

  • That God required of Israel a measure of sincere, relative, imperfect, and national religious obedience.
  • And the reward was temporal, consisting of continuing tenure of the promised land.

4. What are the problems with this? (86-90)

First, the RP attributes to a covenant of works under Moses the kind of obedience (imperfect and sincere) that the Confession says belongs only to the covenant of grace. How can Israel’s imperfect obedience, which is inherently demeritorious (and thus deserving of God’s judgment) be called meritorious and thus properly belong to a covenant of works?

Second, it substitutes a merited reward of temporal life for the merited reward of eternal life in the covenant of works.

Third, as a covenant of works can only be enacted with sinless man, it is impossible for God to renew a covenant of works with fallen man. The idea of God making a covenant of works with Israel seems to deny the reality of God’s penalty pronounced upon sinful man, rendering it impossible for him to obey Him and thus requiring a covenant of grace after the fall.

Fourth, unless we draw a clear line of distinction between the pre-fall covenant of works and the post-fall covenant of grace, and unless we keep the essential elements of the covenant of works separate from the essential elements of the covenant of grace, we end up with theological confusion.

5. What does the WCF say about the essential elements of the covenant of grace? (90-91)

  • In WCF 7.3 the condition or stipulation required of sinners is faith in Christ, which is given by grace.
  • The reward of complying with the condition is eternal life through Christ, again which is the gift of grace.
  • This the essential parts of the covenant of grace are all of grace in contrast to works.

6. How does the WCF conceive of the Mosaic covenant? (91-92)

It is an administration of the covenant of grace and not in any way a covenant of works as confirmed by the Confession’s insistence upon there being only one covenant of grace: “There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.”

7. So how does the law function in the Mosaic covenant? (92-94)

The preface to the ten commandments proves that just as in the New Testament, the believer’s obedience is to be understood in the light of their deliverance from bondage with the law serving as a rule of life to inform them of the proper expression of their faith (reverent thankful obedience for God’s gracious redemption) and to help them see their need of Christ and His perfect obedience.

8. So what about the blessings and curses of the law in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28? (94-96)

While such blessings and curses appear to support the idea of a works principle, the WCF 19.6 is absolutely explicit that they are never to be viewed as part of a covenant of works but rather serve to help the believer use the law as a rule of life by reminding him of the chastisements he can expect when he rebels and the blessings he can expect by grace when he obeys.

9. How does the RP line up with the Confession’s teaching? (96-99)

Although the RP says that the covenant of works was not republished as a covenant of works per se, but rather as part of the covenant of grace that pointed to the person and work of Christ, the RP often presents the Mosaic covenant as a stark contrast to the Abrahamic and New Testament administrations of the covenant of grace.

10. In summary, what are the key points of concern about the RP view of the Mosaic covenant? (100-104)

First, the RP view of the Mosaic covenant ends up with two essentially different sets of conditions and rewards in the one covenant whereas according to the WCF it is impossible to argue that a single covenant contains two essentially different sets of conditions and rewards, creating a tug of war between two opposing principles that usually results in works overcoming grace.

Second, the RP’s inability to clearly delineate a pure works covenant from a pure grace covenant may adversely impact the doctrine of justification.

Third, justification rests upon a clear distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Just as Norman Shepherd undermined the doctrine of justification by blurring works and grace in the covenant of works, so the RP risks doing the same by blurring works and grace in the covenant of grace.

Pages 105 to 112 are very similar to some of yesterday’s summary and will not be repeated here.

11. In what ways does the RP destabilize the biblical concepts of merit and justice? (113-117)

First, if God could covenant to accept Israel’s imperfect obedience as meritorious, theoretically He could have decided to do the same with Christ, thus rendering Christ’s perfect active obedience unnecessary for our salvation.

Second, if ontological considerations are removed from definitions of merit and justice, it is no longer necessary for Christ to be God as God can simply decide whose obedience would be worthy of an infinite reward.

Third, by reducing merit to one category (simple justice) common to Adam, Israel and Christ, the RP undermines the singular glory of Christ’s uniquely meritorious obedience.

12. How does the RP differ from the WCF in its view of a believer’s good works? (118-123)

The WCF says that under the covenant of works, man’s works are accepted and rewarded on the basis of perfect and personal obedience. However, in the covenant of grace, man’s sincere yet imperfect obedience is accepted and rewarded on a principle of grace – on the basis of the imputed righteousness of another. (WCF 16.6)

In other words the nature of these works and the basis of their reward are quite different and emphasize the graciousness of the covenant of grace. This means that the only possible way for man to obtain a reward for his obedience after the fall is through a covenant of grace. This is true not only in the spiritual realm but also in the temporal realm (Larger Catechism 193).

The RP blurs this distinction because although it still holds to the classic traditional doctrine in the realm of individual spiritual salvation, it says that in the national and temporal realm Israel’s imperfect though sincere obedience is rewarded on a principle of merit not grace.

13. What are the problems with this? (124-133)

The first problem is that by teaching a believer’s works can merit temporal blessing, it contradicts the classic reformed teaching that “in Adam, and by our own sin, we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life” (WLC 193).

The second problem is that the same act of obedience by an Israelite can merit a reward on one level (apart from grace) and be rewarded by grace alone on another level. This results in a kind of spiritual schizophrenia in the life of the believer because the same act of obedience produces both (1) humble gratitude for being blessed by grace and (2) a proud sense of entitlement to reward for his obedience.

The third problem is a flawed and confusing typology. In the traditional view, the land functioned as a type of heaven, received by grace though faith. In the RP, Israel’s meritorious obedience retains the land and is said to be a type of Christ’s meritorious obedience to obtain salvation. This could surely only result in Israel thinking that if the land was hers through her works so would heaven be.

The fourth problem is that it radically separates the Old Testament believer’s experience from the New Testament believer. The sincere imperfect NT believer is rewarded on a principle of grace not works. Yet the same imperfect act by an OT believer is  rewarded on a principle of merit.

As that completes the outline, tomorrow I’ll conclude the series with an assessment of Merit and Moses.

  • shawn mathis

    Thank you for reviewing and summarizing the book. The summaries you offer help put the issue clearly: “The fourth problem is that it radically separates the Old Testament believer’s experience from the New Testament believer. The sincere imperfect NT believer is rewarded on a principle of grace not works. Yet the same imperfect act by an OT believer is rewarded on a principle of merit.”

  • Leah Jones

    Because comments are closed on the post about Doug Phillips, I wanted to personally thank you for writing such a nice post about him. I’ve just read some really nasty articles and posts about him and that just makes me so sad…some of them even “Christian”.
    As believers, we should never kick a person when he’s down. I happen to believe Mr. Phillips’ statement that he gave back in September 2013, though it deeply saddened me at the time. What makes me sadder is the way he’s being kicked around by those who didn’t agree with his message. Whether we agreed with him or not, we should just never, ever make blanket statements about a person we don’t know personally.
    Again, thank you so much for giving such a sensitive topic such a polite voice.

  • Martin

    Hello again David, and thanks for your summaries.
    I think that it is too strong a claim to suggest that the WCF declares the Mosaic Covenant to be a covenant of grace. Suggesting that the covenant of grace was operating in the time of the law is not stating that the Law was the covenant. The promises and sacrifices, for instance, are largely found in the Genesis account, in which the Patriarchs were instrumental – not Moses. No TLFN person denies that grace was in operation in the Old Covenant, so the issue is confused when it is then suggested that the Mosaic Covenant is the covenant of grace, when it is clearly described as a Covenant of Works in other places. WCF 7.3 states that “Man, by his fall, having made himself uncapable of life by that covenant…” Do you believe then that the Mosaic Covenant provides a way of salvation for man? Clearly it does not. So it cannot be a covenant of grace, as the WCF makes clear.

    You propose that the only repetition of Eden in Moses is the moral law, so why doesn’t the WCF say that. In fact, on 2 occasions (19:6), the WCF refers to the use of the Law for believers and qualifies that it not be as a covenant of works to them. “Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned…” Therefore, I’m sure you can recognize that the WCF considers that the Law was a covenant of works for Israel (at least), by which individuals would be either justified or condemned. That is the plain reading of it.

    If I could labor your attention a little longer, I would like to interact with your statement: “Third, as a covenant of works can only be enacted with sinless man, it
    is impossible for God to renew a covenant of works with fallen man.”
    May I suggest that in Abraham Israel was a redeemed community, and that God did not consider its transgressions against them (Law bring wrath, and where there is no law, there is no transgression Rom 4:15). As a redeemed community, its eternal standing could only move one way, as was the case with Adam. Adam was in grace (taken from the earth and placed in God’s garden), disobedience resulted in his expulsion from God’s favor. Israel was in the same position as Adam. Israel, after the law, was on a ‘one strike and you’re out’ basis. So when the first documented sin took place after the commandments were first given, God made His position clear to Moses: “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book” (Exod. 32:33). Paul considered the severity of the Law so great that he considered that anyone who was under it was under a curse, because the law required perfect obedience (Gal 3:10). That is why the Law is not of faith, not according to Escondido, but Paul. Temporal blessings of land etc. are red herrings, the main game is eternal salvation, and that was what was lost to Israel via the introduction of the Law.

    However, just to be clear, the covenant of grace was operating in this period of the law for anybody who could put their faith in Jesus, as the WCF makes clear (7:3). The Elect were there, though few in number, benefiting from the Abrahamic Covenant by resembling their father who saw Jesus day and was glad. The majority, however, were blinded to Christ; as Moses declared on behalf of God – “I will hide my face from them and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful” (Deut 32:20). If the Law was of faith then wouldn’t it be logical to reveal Christ so that Israel could believe? Couldn’t Saul, a great Hebrew scholar sincerely dedicated to the Torah, have the opportunity to see Jesus in the Law? His study of Moses did not give him faith, but made him an enemy of Christ. The benefit that you and I have enjoyed by God’s grace and the working of His Spirit is to have opened eyes to see Jesus.
    Kind regards,