Dr. Robert B. Strimple on the Mosaic Covenant and Republication of the Covenant of Works

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Dr. Robert B. Strimple
I found Dr. Strimple’s thoughts on Republication of the Covenant of Works as portrayed in ‘The Law is Not of Faith’ very true.   “Here in the WCF, it is claimed,one also finds the same legal characterization of the Mosaic covenant even in terms of the republication of the covenant of works…” (p. 43). And I wrote in the margin of my copy: “No, no, no!” That is precisely what is not found in the Confession!” RBS

I find it strange that David Van Drunen is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California, Dr. R. Scott Clark is the Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, J. V. Fesko is Acedemic Dean, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, and Bryan Estelle is Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary California.  It is strange that these men have taken up a position that is not confessional especially since one of Dr. Clark’s books is claiming the Recovery of Confessionalism.

Here is the conclusion of the paper by Dr. Strimple concerning Dr. Robert Scott Clark’s position concering WCF chapter 19.

The other relevant blog by Dr. Clark was published much earlier; it is dated  July 16, 2007 (quoted here from footnote 87 on p. 356 of Covenant,  Justification and Pastoral Ministry. Essays by the Faculty of Westminster  Seminary California). There he presented essentially the same argument that he presented in his more recent blog (which we considered above), but with the additional factor of following Thomas Boston in appealing “to the logic implied by the grammar of WCF 19:1 and 2,” and claiming that “the phrase ‘covenant of works’ in 19:1 is appositive to the noun ‘law'” (italics added). “Thus the ‘Law’ is reckoned here as a covenant of works. Thus when, 19:2 establishes ‘this law’ as the subject of the verb “was delivered,” the antecedent can be none other than the law defined as a covenant of works in 19:1.”

Thus, if I am following the “logic of the grammar” correctly, if (as we have shown above) then all the references to “this law” in this chapter, since they all have the same ultimate antecedent (namely the “law” referred to in sec. 1), must also be understood as referring to “none other than the ‘Law’ defined as a covenant of works in 19:1.” But that, of course, is impossible, for that would mean that “this law” spoken of there in sec. 2 as continuing for us is a covenant of works; as also the “law” spoken of in sec. 5 as “forever bind(ing) all, as well justified persons as others”; as well as the references to “the law” twice in sec. 6 as that which “true believers” are “not under…as a covenant of works”! I know Dr. Clark doesn’t believe that, but that is where the logic of his argument would lead him.

When Dr. Clark says in this blog that “the phrase ‘covenant of works,’ in 19:1 is appositive to the noun ‘Law’—”the second expression identifying or supplementing the first” The American College Dictionary—his argument is that therefore “this law” in sec. 2 “can be none other than the ‘Law’ defined as a covenant of works in 19:1.” But if all references to “law” or “this law” in this chapter must be  references to law as a covenant of works, because that is the definition of law in this chapter, that would lead to the consequences noted in our previous paragraph, which cannot be true. The error in Dr. Clark’s argument is that the phrase “as a covenant of works” in sec. 1 is not appositive but restrictive. The little word “as” in the sec. 1 —”God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant or works—is a preposition here in the first sense listed in the Webster New World Dictionary: “as—preposition 1. in the role, function, capacity, or sense of “. The Confession says that God gave to Adam a law as a covenant of works, but it never says, or even suggests, that God ever so gave it to any person or nation after the fall.

In sec. 2 the important phrase “as such” appears, appears immediately after the reference to “this law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and…” The first usage of the word “such” as an adjective listed in the Webster New World Dictionary is: “such—adjective 1. of the same kind mentioned or implied.” Here in sec. 2 the phrase is “as such,” where “such” is a pronoun, meaning “as being what is indicated or suggested” Webster. And what is indicated in the sentence in sec. 2 is the purpose/function stated in the words immediately preceding “as such,” i.e., “to be a perfect rule of righteousness.” The words “as such” do not leap over all the words in the sentence in which it appears to go back to “as a covenant of works” at the beginning of sec. 1!

Note also that the two references to “covenant of works” with negative force in sec. 6—”not under the law as a covenant of works” and later “although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works”—must be read alongside the positive statement of sec. 2. Question: If true believers after the fall (including those who received the law on Mt. Sinai) be “not under the law, as a covenant of works” (sec. 6), how does the law relate to them?  Answer: As “a perfect rule of righteousness.”

The meaning of 19:1-2 is so clear that I do not understand why any question concerning that meaning should ever have arisen. To state that meaning I can use no clearer words than the words the divines used: “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works…This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai…”

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