Creation, Condescension, and Redefinition of Covenant Merit


The doctrine of God’s voluntary condescension goes hand in hand with the distinction that developed in Reformed theology between “covenanted” merit and “strict” or “proper” merit. Covenant merit is assigned to Adam in the covenant of works, whereas strict merit is assigned to Christ in the covenant of grace. What is the difference between the two? Covenant merit is a lesser category of merit when compared to strict merit. Adam’s merit is said to be “improper” when it is measured against the standard of Christ’s “proper” merit. This designation of covenant merit reflects the ontological considerations which pertain to Adam’s status. It seeks to take into account the Creator creature distinction and God’s act of condescension (WCF 7:1) to enter into covenant with Adam. According to the Confession, the establishment of the covenant of works is God’s appointed means of condescension, so that man as mere creature may know and enjoy God as his ultimate blessedness and reward.

…The merit of Christ, in contrast to Adam’s “covenant” or “improper” merit, falls uniquely into the category of “strict” or “proper” merit. Adam was a mere creature, and was dependent on God’s voluntary condescension to enter into the covenant of works. Jesus Christ, the second and last Adam, is uniquely set apart in his role as the Mediator of the covenant of grace. In the incarnation, Jesus is by nature true God as well as true man. He possesses a sinless human nature, which would qualify him (like Adam) to perform perfect and personal obedience. Christ was able to merit eschatological life in more than the “covenanted” sense. Our Savior, being the divine Son of God, is uniquely qualified to merit eternal life in the covenant of grace in the “strict” or “full” sense of the term.

This truth is implicitly taught in the Westminster Confession, where Christ is said to satisfy the justice of God and “purchase” (i. e., “merit”) the eschatological reward of the covenant for his people.

  The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, has fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for those whom the Father has given unto Him (WCF 8:5).

The [Klinean] republication view teaches that man was in covenant with God at the very moment of creation. This is an important shift from the traditional viewpoint. Ontological considerations demand that there be at least a logical distinction (rather than a chronological or historical sequence) between God’s creating man and his entering into covenant with him. The [Klinean] republication teaching now erases this confessional distinction (which is based upon the “great disproportion” between the Creator and creature), and thereby turns God’s providential work of establishing the covenant into an aspect of the work of creation. Thus, we may say that the two distinct acts have been conflated or collapsed into essentially one act in this new view. For all intents and purposes, the relationship between God and man is not first that of sovereign Creator over his finite creature, but is from the point of creation a relationship of “God-in-covenant-with-man.” For Professor Kline and those who have followed his lead in the republication position, it is improper to even consider man’s existence apart from covenant. Thus, man’s covenantal status seems to “trump” his creaturely status. Professor Kline makes this clear in Kingdom Prologue.

Man’s creation as image of God meant, as we have seen, that the creating of the world was a covenant-making process. There was no original non-covenantal order of mere nature on which the covenant was superimposed. Covenantal commitments were given by the Creator in the very act of endowing the mancreature with the mantle of the divine likeness. …The situation never existed in which man’s future was contemplated or presented in terms of a static continuation of the original state of blessedness (Kingdom Prologue [2000], p. 92).

…The obliteration of the distinction between creation and covenant is extremely significant for laying the foundation of a new paradigm of merit—one that is divorced from ontological considerations.

We have already observed that the Creator-creature distinction lies at the center of the doctrines of God, man, and of the covenant in the history of Reformed theology. This distinction is also central to the traditional understanding of merit, as the differences between Adam’s covenant merit and Christ’s strict merit rest on ontological factors. It is apparent that the adherents to the Republication Paradigm have followed Professor Kline in their departure from the tradition in this regard.

… In this redefined view of merit, there is no longer any need or place for the previous distinction made between Adam’s covenant merit in contrast to Christ’s strict merit. In  terms of the definition of merit, Adam and Christ can equally earn the rewards of their respective covenants according to the principle of simple justice.

It is also important to note another ramification of this new paradigm. Just as the respective obedience of Adam and Christ would be deemed equally meritorious according to the definition of “simple justice,” so also the works of others, beyond (or between) the two federal heads, may equally be counted as meritorious. The [Klinean] Republication Paradigm allows for only one category or definition of merit (“covenant merit”) which is applied equally to Adam, to Christ, as well as to other figures after the fall (such as Noah, Abraham, and Israel). This explains why meritorious works of obedience are possible for sinners between Adam and Christ in this new paradigm. The redefinition of merit “allows” God to make another meritorious arrangement outside of the ones made with the two Adams. After the fall, in the Mosaic covenant, for example, 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.

The redefinition of “covenant merit” does not require any ontological considerations. In fact, it does not even require moral perfection on the part of man. Thus, the fact that Israel’s works are those of fallen sinful creatures is completely irrelevant. They are meritorious because God says so. All that matters is that they fulfill God’s covenant Word, which alone defines and determines what constitutes merit and justice in any given covenantal arrangement.

Booklet on Merit
portions from pp. 32-42

Moses and Merit

Follow up post after this one.

“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 characterizes 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.”  Rev. Winzer



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


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…”

Download the short document here.

Kindgoms Apart “Engaging the Two Kingdoms Perspective” Pre-release….


Kingdoms Apart
Engaging the Two Kingdoms Perspective

Ryan C McIlhenny

There is a portion of this book that has been made available and downloadable. I heartily recommend you download it and read it. Dr. Venema’s part is most excellent. It correctly and clearly brings David VanDrunnen’s views and interpretation of Calvin’s Two Kingdom / Natural Law Theology into question.

After you open the link just click on ‘Sample Chapters: PDF’
Then click ‘save page as’ in your browser so you can retain a copy. I will buy the book as soon as it is made available.  It is suppose to be available Oct. 2012.

There are three broad topics that are considered in Venema’s critique of Van Drunnen’s interpretation of Calvin concerning Two Kingdom’s / Natural Law.

First, Does Calvin view them (the two kingdoms) primarily in terms of two separate realms? Does he make clear identification of the spiritual kingdom with the institutional church and the natural kingdom with the remainder of human life and culture?
Second, Is there a strict correlation between the natural kingdom, which is governed by Christ as Mediator of Creation through natural law, and the spiritual kingdom, which is governed by Christ as Mediator of redemption through moral law as it is set forth in scripture?
Third, What is the relation that Calvin emphasizes between God’s purpose and work as Creator and as Redeemer. How does Calvin construe the relation between God’s purposes in creation and redemption?

Please sit up and take notice of this issue.  I couldn’t agree more with the assessment of Gideon Strauss, Senior Fellow, Center for Public Justice, Washington, DC, “This is not only an academic debate. The outcome of the debate will have broad implications for Christian schools, colleges, seminaries, and churches and for Christians in the academy, politics, business, the arts, and other realms of cultural activity.”

I venture to even go a bit farther and state that this effects our understanding of Christ (Christology) and how we live our life inwardly as well as outwardly.

The download to this might be rather short lived so get it while you can.