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


Sundry Quotes from Solid Reformed Men on Law and Gospel



Thomas Boston, Works, 3:377:

The doctrines of the gospel believed with the heart, teach us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world. As Christ is the end of the law, so I may say, the law is the end of the gospel; for it is the great design of the gospel revelation, to bring back sinners to that righteousness and holiness which the law requires. The gospel never gains its end among a people, till a strain of piety and holiness run through their whole lives.


David Clarkson (Works 1:315):

The righteousness of Christ turns the law into gospel to a believer, and of a doctrine full of dread and terror, renders it the most acceptable message that ever was brought to the world. The law, which stands as the angel with a flaming sword, to bar all flesh out of paradise, when the righteousness of Christ is applied, it becomes an angel to carry every believer into Abraham’s bosom; Christ’s righteousness added, it loses its name, and we call it gospel. The way in both seems to be the same for substance; perfect obedience is requisite in both. They differ in the circumstances of the person performing this obedience. In the law it was to be personal, in the gospel his surety’s performance is sufficient.

However, if there be any terror, dread in the law, Christ’s righteousness removes it; if any grace, comfort in the gospel, Christ’s righteousness is the rise of it. Take away Christ’s righteousness, and the gospel can give no life; take it away, and the law speaks nothing but death; no life, no hope of life without it, either in law or gospel.

Thomas Goodwin (Works, 6:261):
As faith turns the commands of the law into gospel in a regenerate man’s heart, so conscience, in an unregenerate man, turns the gospel into law. As faith writes the law in the heart, and urgeth the duties of it upon evangelical grounds and motives—as the love of Christ, conformity to him, union with him, and the free grace of God—so in a man unregenerate, gospel duties are turned into legal, through the sway and influence of conscience, and that dominion which the covenant of works hath over him.

Samuel Rutherford (The Covenant of Life Opened, 198-199).

The obedience of faith, or Gospel-obedience, in the fourth place, hath less of the nature of obedience than that of Adam, or of the elect angels, or that of Christ’s. It’s true we are called obedient children, and they are called the commandments of Christ, and Christ hath taken the moral law and made use of it in an evangelic way, yet we are more (as it were) patients in obeying gospel-commands. Not that we are mere patients, as Libertines teach; for grace makes us willing, but we have both supernatural habits and influences of grace furnished to us from the grace of Christ, who hath merited both to us; and so in Gospel-obedience we offer more of the Lord’s own and less of our own because he both commands and gives us grace to obey. And so to the elect believer the Law is turned in Gospel, he by his grace fulfilling (as it were) the righteousness of the Law in us by begun new obedience, Rom. 8:4.

Westminster Confession of Faith, 19.6,

It [the moral law] is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourages to the one and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace.

Walter Marshall (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification Opened, p. 235, 1981 EP ed.).

Here you have holiness as a free gift received by faith, an act of the mind and soul. Whosoever will may come, take it and drink freely, and nothing is required but a willing mind (John 7:38; Isa. 55:1; Rev. 22:17). But the law is an intolerable burden (Matt. 23:4; Acts 15:10), if duty be laid on us by its terms. We are not left in this way to conquer lusts by our endeavours, which is a successless work, but what is duty is given, and the law is turned into promises (Heb. 8:6-13; Ezek. 36:25, 26; Jer. 31:33; 32:40). We have all now in Christ (Col. 3:11; 2:9, 10, 15, 17). This is a catholic medicine, instead of a thousand. How pleasant would this free gift, holiness, be to us, if we knew our own wants, inabilities and sinfulness? How ready are some to toil continually and macerate their bodies in a melancholy legal way to get holiness, rather than perish forever? And therefore, how ready should we be, when it is only, ‘Take, and have; believe, and be sanctified and saved?’ (2 Kings 5:13). Christ’s burden is light by His Spirit’s bearing it (Matt. 11:30). No weariness, but renewing of strength (Isa. 40:31).

Thomas Case (Puritan Sermons, 5:524, 525):

Hold fast the models of divine truth in your practice. – A practical memory is the best memory: to live the truths which we know, is the best way to hold them fast.

There are heretical manners as well as heretical doctrines. “Profane Christians live against the faith, whilst heterodox Christians dispute against the faith” [Augustine]. There be not a few that live antinomianism and libertinism, and atheism, and popery, whilst others preach it. Apostates are practical Arminians; a profane man is a practical atheist. Whilst others, therefore, live error, do you live the truth; whilst others deny the gospel, do you live the gospel: “As ye have received” the truth as it is in Jesus, “so walk ye” in it, to all well-pleasing (Col. 2:6; 1:10). Without this, a man forsakes the truth, while he doth profess it: “They profess that they know God, but in their works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).

Yea, to live the truths we hear, is the way, not to hold them only, but to hold them forth to others; as the apostle speaks, “Holding forth the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). It is a metaphor taken either from fire-lights upon the sea-coasts burning all night; the use whereof is to give notice to seamen of some neighbouring rocks and quicksands that may endanger their vessel: or else from torch-bearers in the night-time; who hold out their lights, that passengers may see their way in the dark. According to which metaphor our Saviour calls true, real Christians “the light of the world, a city set on a hill,” to enlighten the dark world with their beams of holiness (Matt. 5:14). It is a blessed thing when the conversations of Christians are practical models of gospel-truths, walking Bibles, holding forth “the graces” or “excellencies,” “of Him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

John Owen (Works 3:278-279):

There are two sorts of things declared in the gospel: —
1st. Such as are absolutely its own, that are proper and peculiar unto it, — such as have no footsteps in the law or in the light of nature, but are of pure revelation, peculiar to the gospel. Of this nature are all things concerning the love and will of God in Christ Jesus. The mystery of his incarnation, of his offices and whole mediation, of the dispensation of the Spirit, and our participation thereof, and our union with Christ thereby, our adoption, justification, and effectual sanctification, thence proceeding, in brief, everything that belongs unto the purchase and application of saving grace, is of this sort. These things are purely and properly evangelical, peculiar to the gospel alone…

2dly. There are such things declared and enjoined in the gospel as have their foundation in the law and light of nature. Such are all the moral duties which are taught therein. And two things may be observed concerning them:—
(1st.) That they are in some measure known unto men aliunde from other principles. The inbred concreated light of nature doth, though obscurely, teach and confirm them…
(2dly.) There is on all men an obligation unto obedience answerable to their light concerning these things. The same law and light which discovereth these things doth also enjoin their observance. Thus is it with all men antecedently unto the preaching of the gospel unto them. In this estate the gospel superadds two things unto the minds of men:—
(1st.) It directs us unto a right performance of these things, from a right principle, by a right rule, and to a right end and purpose; so that they, and we in them, may obtain acceptance with God. Hereby it gives them a new nature, and turns moral duties into evangelical obedience.
(2dly.) By a communication of that Spirit which is annexed unto its dispensation, it supplies us with strength for their performance in the manner it prescribes.

Ralph Erskine (Sermons 2:22):

The believer’s own obedience to the law, or his gospel-obedience, and conformity to the law, wrought in him, and done by him, through the help of the Spirit of grace; even this obedience of his, I say, hath not the legal promise of eternal life, as if it were the legal condition of his obtaining eternal life: no, his gospel-obedience hath indeed a gospel-promise, connecting it with eternal life, as it is an evidence of his union to Christ, in whom all the promises are Yea and Amen; and as it is a walking in the way to heaven, without which none shall ever come to the end; “For without holiness it is impossible to see God.” – But the legal promise of eternal life made to obedience, and which makes our personal obedience to be the cause and matter of our justification, and as the proper condition of salvation and eternal life, this is the promise of the law, or covenant of works; and this promise it is now wholly divested of, as to the believer in Jesus Christ, who hath taken his law-room, and yielded that perfect obedience, to which the promise of eternal life is now made: and the reason why, I say, the promise of eternal life is now made to Christ’s perfect obedience in our room and stead, is, Because, the law, or covenant of works, made no promise of life properly, but to man’s own personal obedience; it made no mention of a surety; but now, in sovereign mercy, this law-rigour is abated, and the Surety is accepted, to whose obedience life is promised.

Reverend Matthew Winzer

Dear reader,

Do you understand the promise of the gospel in relation to gospel obedience? When you perform moral duties are you looking to the promise of the gospel and trusting that this obedience is accepted for Christ’s sake, and thereupon blessed of God to be the way of walking to heaven? Or do you perform moral duties out of obedience to the law, and on the understanding that law-rigour condemns all your works as the most filthy unrighteousness, so that nothing you do can ever be acceptable? These are very important questions. If good works are not done by faith in Jesus Christ, they are not good works; they are condemned at the bar of God’s justice. But if good works are done by faith in Jesus Christ, God “is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 16.6).

I pray that God will enable you to see the important difference between serving the law and serving the gospel.
Reverend Matthew Winzer

Thomas Brooks’ Nine Strong Consolations – Point #8

“…Now remember that this imputed righteousness of Christ procures acceptance for our inherent righteousness. When a sincere Christian casts his eye upon the weaknesses, infirmities, and imperfections that daily attend his best services, he sighs and mourns. But if he looks upward to the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, it shall bring forth his infirm, weak, and sinful performances perfect, spotless, and sinless, and approved according to the tenor of the gospel. They become spiritual sacrifices, and he cannot but rejoice (1 Peter 2:5). For as there is an imputation of righteousness to the persons of believers, so there is also an imputation to their services and actions . . . so the imperfect good works that are done by believers are accounted righteousness, or as Calvin speaks, “are accounted for righteousness, they being dipped in the blood of Christ.” They are accounted righteous actions; and so sincere Christians shall be judged according to their good works though not saved for them (Revelation 11:18; 20:12; Matthew 25:34-37).

And it is observable in that famous process of the last judgment (Matthew 25:34-37), that the supreme Judge makes mention of the bounty and liberality of the saints, and so bestows the crown of life and the eternal inheritance upon them. Though the Lord’s faithful ones have eminent cause to be humbled and afflicted for the many weaknesses that cleave to their best duties, yet on the other hand, they have wonderful cause to rejoice and triumph that they are made perfect through Jesus Christ, and that the Lord looks at them through the righteousness of Christ as fruits of His own Spirit (Hebrews 13:20, 21; 1 Cor. 6:11). The saints’ prayers being perfumed with Christ’s odors are highly accepted in heaven (Revelation 8:3, 4). Upon this bottom of imputed righteousness, believers may have exceeding strong consolation and good hope through grace, that both their persons and services do find singular acceptation with God as having no spot or blemish at all in them. Surely righteousness imputed must be the top of our happiness and blessedness!…”

Richard Sibbes (Works, 5:187):

Question. Now, what is it to do all things evangelically? To clear that point.

Answer. To do all things evangelically is, first of all, for a man to know that he is in the same state of grace, and that he hath his sins pardoned, and that he is accepted in Christ to life and salvation. That is the ground of all evangelical obedience. He must know that he is in the covenant of grace; that he hath the forgiveness of sins, and a right to life everlasting in Christ. And then comes obedience answerable to that condition; that is, a desire to obey God in all things: a grief that he cannot do it so well as he would; a prayer that he might do it so; and an endeavour together with prayer that he may do so, and some strength likewise with endeavour. For a Christian, as I said before, he hath the Spirit of God, not only to set him to an endeavour, but to give him some strength. So there is a desire, and purpose, and prayer, and grief of heart, and endeavour, and likewise some strength in evangelical obedience.

A Christian then in the gospel can do all things when he hath his sins forgiven, and is accepted in Christ, when he can endeavour to do all, and desire to do all, and in some measure practise all duties in truth. For the gospel requires truth and not perfection. That is the perfection that brings us to heaven in Christ our Saviour. We have title to heaven; in him is the ground, because forgiveness of sins is in him. Now a Christian’s life is but to walk worthy of this, and to fit himself for that glorious condition that he hath title unto by Christ, to walk sincerely before God. Sincerity is the perfection of Christians. Let not Satan therefore abuse us. We do all things, when we endeavour to do all things, and purpose to do all things, and are grieved when we cannot do better. For mark, this goes with evangelical obedience always. God pardons that which is ill, for he is a Father. He hath bound himself to pardon, ‘I will pity you as a father pitieth his child,’ Ps. 103:18. From the very relation he hath took upon him, we may be assured he will pity and pardon us, and then he will accept of that which is good, because it is the work of his own Spirit, and will reward it. This in the covenant of grace he will do. A Christian can do all then; and wherein he fails, God will pardon him. What is good, God will accept and reward; and what is sick and weak in him, God will heal, till he have made him up in Christ.

Lutheran / Reformed differences recognized during the time of the Westminster Divines


Anthony Burgess on the difference between Lutheran and Reformed views of the covenant and law/gospel:

“We have confuted (proven to be incorrect) the false differences, and now come to lay down the truth, between the law and the Gospel taken in a larger sense.  

And, first, you must know that the difference is not essential, or substantial, but accidental: so that the division of the Testament, or Covenant into the Old, and New, is not a division of the Genus (classification) into its opposite Species; but of the subject, according to its several accidental administrations, both on Gods part, and on mans. It is true, the Lutheran Divines, they do expressly oppose the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by Moses, to be a Covenant of Works, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of Grace. Indeed, they acknowledge that the Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us; only they make that Covenant of Moses to be a superadded thing to the Promise, holding forth a condition of perfect righteousness unto the Jews, that they might be convinced of their own folly in their self-righteousness.” (Vindication of the Morall Law,  Lecture 26  p.251)

I so need to get a copy of this book.  I know Reformation Heritage books has it.  Thanks ole buddy Mark Van Der Molen for bringing this small tidbit to life.

Book can be downloaded here.

I am sorry but it has dawned on me that this might be hard to grasp and understand on one level because Aristotelian terminology is being used above.  I am speaking about the terms essential, substantial, and accidental in the quote above.  It is Aristotelian thought.  Accidental is non essential property of the substance.  It is a part of it but it is not essential.  That doesn’t mean it is randomly thrown in or unnecessary when we consider God’s providential working. It is unnecessary for the substantial to exist.  As an example most people have legs. It is not necessary for you to have a leg to exist and survive but God did put it there for a reason and purpose. The term accidental should not be read as a modern day American would read it and think of a mishap or car wreck.  I am not sure I am explaining it well but the language above has a context and I hope I have helped out a bit.  Historical context and understanding are very important here. I hope that helps out a little.

To help further explain the above situation, one of the differences between Lutheran and the Westminsterian understanding is that Lutherans believe that the substance of the Mosaic and New Covenant differ.  The position of the Westminster Confession of Faith is that the Substance of the New Covenant and Mosaic Covenant is the same.  Some Modern Day Reformed Thinkers do not believe that to be the case as Lutherans described back in Anthony Burgess’ day didn’t either.  Meredith Kline in his later years departed from the biblical and confessional understanding of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Doctors Michael Horton, R. Scott Clark, and I believe Darryl G. Hart and David Van Drunnen depart from it also.  This has lead to the unbiblical way they dichotomize law and grace instead of proving the proper distinctions between them.    It is also leading to various views concerning Natural Law and Kingdom Theology that some theologians are having problems with today.

Just for reference let me link to a few blog posts to help us understand what I am communicating.

What is Republication of the Covenant of Works?

(What is the Gospel?) Depraved Christianity might be Antinomian Christianity pt. 3

‘Modern Day Reformed Thought’ and Two Kingdoms

The Mosaic Covenant, same in substance as the New?

Possible Misconceptions about Galatians. Law and Gospel are opposed?

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

The Mosaic Covenant and the Modern Day Justification and Sanctification Controversy

That should be enough to help you get started in understanding this discussion now.