Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 19. The Law and the Covenant of Works.

Following the book ‘The Law Is Not of Faith’ (see pp. 10-11, 43), DR. R. Scott Clark, believes that chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith “clearly suggests”that the covenant of works was republished at Mt. Sinai. The argument goes something like this: Westminster Confession of Faith 19.1 states, God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works. Paragraph 2 begins with “This law,” obviously referring to the law described in paragraph 1. Since the law in paragraph 1 was described as a covenant of works, the law of paragraph 2 must be as well.

This argument is nothing new as it is one that I (Pastor Patrick Ramsey) addressed in a journal article back in 2004, which you can find here. Its appearance in the book TLNF, however, may well be the first time it has appeared in print. And quite frankly I am surprised to see the editors using it because it is such a poor argument and one that is easily answered. Chapter 19 does not say that the covenant of works was delivered or republished at Mt. Sinai. It says the law was delivered at Mt. Sinai. What law? “This law” of paragraph 2 does refer to the law in paragraph 1, i.e. the one given to Adam as a covenant of works. But what the editors of the book TLNF and Clark fail to see is that “This law” is further defined in paragraphs 3, 5, and 6. In these sections we learn that “this law” is the moral law (paragraph 3), which is the perfect rule of righteousness (paragraph 2) binding on all persons in all ages (paragraph 5) and is given to true believers not as a covenant of works (paragraph 6). Therefore, WCF 19 clearly does not suggest or indicate that the covenant of works was republished at Mt. Sinai.

Now since the law that was delivered at Mt. Sinai was the moral law, it is the same law that was given to Adam in the garden. Indeed it is the same law that binds all men in every age as the Confession rightly says. Consequently, it is correct to say that part of the content of the covenant of works was republished at Mt. Sinai and for that matter in the new covenant since the moral law is restated there as well. This is what Brent Ferry calls material republication (see TLNF, 91-92). It is important to note, however, that this is republication of the law and not the covenant of works. This is why it is misleading to refer to material republication as a sense of the republication of the covenant of works. There is a difference between law and covenant or at least the Puritans thought there is. In other words, to say that the law (or content of the covenant of works) was republished is different from saying that the covenant of works was republished at Mt. Sinai.

Notice in 19.1 of the Confession that the law given to Adam is qualified by the phrase “as a covenant of works.” This qualifier is missing in paragraph 2 and it is replaced with “a perfect rule of righteousness.” In the garden the law was a perfect rule of righteousness and the condition of the covenant of works. But at Mt. Sinai the law no longer serves as the condition of a covenant of works though it does continue to be a perfect rule of righteousness. It is this Puritan and Confessional distinction that Clark and the editors of TLNF fail to incorporate in their reading of chapter 19. As a result they completely misread the Confession.

If we would follow the Confession’s teaching on the law as explained in chapter 19 it is imperative that we distinguish between the law as given to Adam from the law as given to Israel. James Durham explains:

James Durham

Then you would distinguish between this law, as given to Adam, and as given to Israel. For as given to him, it was a covenant of works; but, as given to them, it was a covenant of grace; and so from us now it calls for gospel duties, as faith in Christ (1 Tim. 1:5), repentance, hope in God, etc. And although it call for legal duties, yet in a gospel-manner; therefore we are in the first commandment commanded to have God for our God, which cannot be obeyed by sinners but in Christ Jesus; the covenant of works being broken, and the tie of friendship thereby between God and man made void. So that now men, as to that covenant, are without God in the world, and without Christ and the promises (Eph. 2:21-13). And so our having God for our God (which is pointed at in the preface to the commandments) and Christ for our Savior, and closing with his righteousness, and the promises of the covenant (which are all yea and amen in him) must go together.[1]

I might also add that I find it quite ironic that Klineans appeal to Fisher and Boston for support of the republication of the covenant of works. The position advocated by Fisher and Boston is one that is repudiated by Kline. Furthermore, their (mis)reading of chapter 19 would support the position of Fisher and Boston but there is no way it could support Kline’s republication view. Perhaps this is why they tend to argue for republication in general (“in some sense”) and not for specific views of republication. But of course it is fallacious to argue that since republication in some sense is found in the Reformed tradition that therefore a particular view of republication is Reformed. I have previously argued that the particular view espoused by Kline and Karlberg, like its closest predecessor, namely the view held by Samuel Bolton, is incompatible with the Westminster Standards.
Rev. Patrick Ramsey OPC

[1] James Durham, Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments, 62. See Francis R. Beattie, The Presbyterian Standards (repr., Greenville, S.C.: Southern Presbyterian Press, n.d.), 249; Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 15, 113.

WCF and Republication

A Pastoral acquaintance of mine wrote the above. He is most correct in my estimation. I have communicated with Dr. Clark on this topic. He does believe that the law in Chapter 19 is equivalent to a Covenant of Works (in some sense). I believe he is incorrect.  As Robert Shaw states,  Adam was created under this Law in a natural form but then was  brought under it in the form of a Covenant.

Section I.–God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

The law, as thus inscribed on the heart of the first man, is often styled the law of creation, because it was the will of the sovereign Creator, revealed to the reasonable creature, by impressing it upon his mind and heart at his creation. It is also called the moral law, because it was a revelation of the will of God, as his moral governor, and was the standard and rule of man’s moral actions. Adam was originally placed under this law in its natural form, as merely directing and obliging him to perfect obedience. He was brought under it in a covenant form, when an express threatening of death, and a gracious promise of life, was annexed to it; and then a positive precept was added, enjoining him not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, as the test of his obedience to the whole law.–Gen. ii. 16, 17. That this covenant was made with the first man, not as a single person, but as the federal representative of all his natural posterity, has been formerly shown. The law, as invested with a covenant form, is called, by the Apostle Paul, “The law of works” (Rom. iii. 27); that is, the law as a covenant of works. In this form, the law is to be viewed as not only prescribing duty, but as promising life as the reward of obedience, and denouncing death as the punishment of transgression. ….

Section II.–This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty toward God, and the other six our duty to man.


Upon the fall of man, the law, considered as a covenant of works, was annulled and set aside; but, considered as moral, it continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness. That fair copy of the law which had been inscribed on the heart of the first man in his creation, was, by the fall, greatly defaced, although not totally obliterated. Some faint impressions of it still remain on the minds of all reasonable creatures. Its general principles, such as, that God is to be worshipped, that parents ought to be honoured, that we should do to others what we would reasonably wish that they should do to us–such general principles as these are still, in some degree, engraved on the minds of all men. – Rom. ii. 14,15. But the original edition of the law being greatly obliterated, God was graciously pleased to give a new and complete copy of it. He delivered it to the Israelites from Mount Sinai, with awful solemnity. In this promulgation of the law, he summed it up in ten commandments; and, therefore, it is commonly styled the Law of the Ten Commandments.

Notice what Shaw states.  He notes the Original Natural form of the Law that Adam was under.  Then he notes that Adam was brought under a Covenant of Works when an express threatening of death, and a gracious promise of life, was annexed to the Law.  This might seem strange to some of you because you have been taught and drank the Klinean (Westminster Seminary California) Kool Aid. It is kind of like the Scoffield Bible. The media has so influenced us that we just accept a certain view as biblical and as historical. But I don’t believe it is the understanding that the majority of the Divines held at the Westminster Assembly. And I think I can show this to be true.

The reason I am starting this topic on the different views of Law concerning the Covenant of Works and the Mosaic is because so much of this teaching is where Klineans (followers of Meredith Kline’s teaching) start to go off the rails when they get to the Mosaic Covenant and the Republication issue. They want to import a Covenant of Works scheme into the Mosaic Covenant that dicotomizes Law and Gospel. They make the Law and Gospel opposed to each other in a way that is unbiblical. The Law and Gospel are not opposed to each other as I note in a previous blog on the book of Galatians.

Since I wrote that blog I have been lead to many Reformers of the past who share the same view I have learned. The Mosaic Law is a schoolmaster and not opposed to the Gospel. (Galatians 3:21) Samuel Rutherford, Anthony Burgess, James Durham, and Herman Bavinck all do a good job explaining this. I believe Klineanism leads to a denial that the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant are the same in Substance as our Confession states they are in Chapter 7.5,6. This view does lead to what I have termed Modern Reformed Thought and it appears it is leading to what some call Escondido Two Kingdom / Natural Law Theology and a poor definition of the Gospel in my estimation. It also denies some of the authority that Christ has as King. No, I am not a Theonomist. I am a Covenanter. I do believe in the Mediatorial Kingship of Christ. But that is a side issue.

The following words about this movement aren’t mine but I agree with them….

The basic problem with the new scheme is the way it makes the covenant of works co-ordinate with the covenant of grace in the Mosaic economy. They refer to the Abrahamic promise and the so-called “works principle” of the Sinaitic covenant functioning side by side. The older divines would speak of the covenant of works as subordinate to the covenant of grace. It was serving in the way we see it in action in Romans 7, for example, bringing conviction of sin and driving the people to the promised Christ. (Incidentally, the same is true with respect to the law-gospel relationship now.) Besides this ordo salutis aspect, there was also the historia salutis aspect. The outward service of weak and beggarly elements bound the people to the faith of Christ until Christ came. This was a temporary “addition” which had respect to their minority as sons and had all the appearance of making Israel look like they were servants in bondage. This has been abrogated in Christ and the son has come to maturity in the Spirit. But as to the essential nature of the Sinaitic covenant, it was always looked upon as an administration of the covenant of grace. The catechetical teaching on the preface to the ten commandments drove this point home in an experiential way which could not be easily forsaken.

Further problems arise once this basic departure is discerned. One begins to see a metaphysical reworking of the categories of grace and justice in relation to the “covenant of nature.” Instead of a providential dispensation (see Shorter Catechism question 12), the covenant of works is turned into a creational entity which characterises the natural relationship between God and man. Human morality is, in its very essence, made a covenant of works. Grace is only operative where sin abounds.

Anyways, I don’t hate anyone and I recognize that I have brothers in all walks and theological persuasions so don’t think I am out to be at anyone’s throat. I am just trying to work this out and put this in a historical setting also. I have been accused of federal vision and historical revision lately. Something about a red dog or a dog not barking…. I have been trying to work with Drs. and Professors of the faith. I am not swinging my bat from my shoulder alone. I am a man under authority. Pray for me.

May we all grow in our understanding…..

R. Martin Snyder

also reference these blogs.

The Covenant of Life chapter XI by Samuel Rutherford

Samuel Rutherford 
was a very prominent Scottish member of the Westminster Assembly, which sat in the 1640s. Hpublished an extensive treatise on the covenant. It appeared in 1655, as was entitled The covenant of life opened, or, A treatise of the covenant of grace. In the eleventh chapter, Rutherford deals with several abberant views on the Mosaic covenant. First he deals with the Amyraldian view (espoused first by John Cameron, and later by Bolton), which argues that the Mosaic covenant is not a covenant of works or a covenant of grace, but rather a third “subservient” covenant. This view is rejected by the Standards, as well as the Formula Consensus Helvetica. Second, he deals with those who make the Mosaic covenant a covenant of works, completely different from the covenant of grace. This is the view of all Lutherans, as well as a very small minority of Reformed theologians. It is also rejected by the Standards (WCF 19:1-2, LC 101, etc, but we will deal with that issue elsewhere). Finally, he deals with the Arminian view. It is similar to the Amyraldian view, in that it also argues for three covenants entirely distinct in substance.


Anthony Burgess

 Anthony Burgess’s Vindication of the Law and the Covenants (1647). Burgess was a prominent member of the Westminster Assembly. These lectures were internationally hailed as a solid defense of consensus Calvinism over against the more extreme views of the Calvinistic antinomians of the period, as well as those of the Papists, Socinians, and Arminians.

Burgess argues for the consensus position articulated in the Westminster Standards, that the Mosaic Law is a covenant of grace (cf. WCF 7:5-6; 19:1-2; LC #101). Over against this, he refutes three other aberrant minority views, who maintain that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works, a mixed covenant, or a subservient covenant. Note especially his insightful exegesis of the Ten Commandments towards the end: even the very form of the commandments presupposes that they are given in the context of a covenant of grace.


The Covenant of ‘Works and the Mosaic Law /  James Durham


WCF 19:1-2 – Law as Covenant vs. Law as Rule


The Mosaic Covenant in Reformed Theology

Dr. Robert Strimple discusses Dr. Clark and WCF chapter 19


Also check out the Substance of the Covenants….

and my other findings.