Sunday, August 09, 2009

0 Marrow Theology: Republication of the Covenant of Works, part II

The author, Edward Fisher, and the commenter, Thomas Boston, in The Marrow of Modern Divinity lay out carefully the doctrine concerning the relationships between the Covenant of Works, of Grace and of Redemption and the Sinaitic covenant. Central to their thesis is the doctrine of republication of the Covenant of Works - not as a covenant unto life, as Boston writes in the footnotes to this work, but for the purpose of showing believers their absolute inadequacy in establishing their own righteousness. This teaching has much to recommend it, and Boston and Fisher do an excellent job of explaining what republication means, and what it does NOT mean.

One thing that is exceedingly important, and which Fisher takes pains to make clear through several illustrations, is that the covenant of works republished is NOT meant to replace or make more complete the covenant of grace. There is no annulment of the promise to Abraham, by which the covenant of grace is very clearly illustrated, as is clear from Galatians 3:17 - "The covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law which was 430 years after, cannot disannul." There is no fault in the covenant of grace, such that the republication of the covenant of works was needed to satisfy. The purpose of the republication, it seemed, was pedagogical -
"But it was added by way of subserviency and attendance, the better to advance and make effectual the covenant of grace; so that although the same covenant that was made with Adam was renewed on Mount Sinai, yet I say still, it was not for the same purpose. For this was it that God aimed at, in making the covenant of works with man in innocency, to have that which was his due from man: but God made it with the Israelites for no other end, than that man, being thereby convinced of his weakness, might flee to Christ. So that it was renewed only to help forward and introduce another and a better covenant; and so to be a manuduction unto Christ, viz: to discover sin, to waken the conscience, and to convince them of their own impotency, and so drive them out of themselves to Christ. Know it then, I beseech you, that all this while there was no other way of life given, either in whole, or in part, than the covenant of grace. All this while God did but pursue the design of his own grace; and, therefore, was there no inconsistency either in God's will or acts; only such was his mercy, that he subordinated the covenant of works, and made it subservient to the covenant of grace, and so to tend to evangelical purposes." (p. 63, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
The Sinaitic covenant involved the republication of the covenant of works - "not for the same purpose", Fisher says. Indeed, life was promised in this republication to those who perfectly upheld its conditions, namely perfect obedience in every particular. This hadn't changed - life WOULD be granted to any who satisfied its conditions. "Do this and you shall live" was still a valid statement. It was, as Fisher writes, "the covenant of works made with Adam" (p. 67) - though such fulfillment on the basis of any human attainment, after the fall, was impossible. As Fisher continues,
"...and if any man could yield perfect obedience to the law, both in doing and suffering, he should have eternal life; for we may not deny [says Calvin] but that the reward of eternal salvation belongeth to the upright obedience of the law. But God knew well enough that the Israelites were never able to yield such an obedience: and yet he saw it meet to propound eternal life to them upon these terms; that so he might speak to them in their own humour, as indeed it was meet: for they swelled with mad assurance in themselves, saying, "All that the Lord commandeth we will do," and be obedient, (Exo 19:8). Well, said the Lord, if you will needs be doing, why here is a law to be kept; and if you can fully observe the righteousness of it, you shall be saved: sending them of purpose to the law, to awaken and convince them, to sentence and humble them, and to make them see their own folly in seeking for life that way; in short, to make them see the terms under which they stood, that so they might be brought out of themselves, and expect nothing from the law, in relation to life, but all from Christ." (p. 64, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Again, as I noted last time, this propounding of life upon the terms of perfect coherence with God's Law serves the noble purpose of showing the impossibility of its achievement, and the absolute necessity of resting in another, the one and only man who ever did in fact keep those terms. "How shall a man see his need of life by Christ," Fisher writes, "if he do not first see that he is fallen from the way of life?" (p. 64)

How, today, is any to understand their need for Christ if they are not clearly brought face to face with the fact of their inability to satisfy God's requirements and fulfill the righteousness that He demands? The Psalmist clearly marks as acceptable him whose hands are clean, and him alone in Psalm 24:3-5:
"3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?

4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

5 He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation."

How many such are there among us? One, only one... and for His righteousness we must sigh, for it is His righteousness alone in which we are accepted. The republication of the covenant of works has the purpose of humbling proud sinners like me, and bringing us to recognize our deep and abiding need to be found in the promised Seed of Abraham, Him being our only hope.

There is nothing strange, nothing radical in this doctrine of republication that should be of concern to the confessionally reformed believer. It seems quite clear, at least in the presentation made in The Marrow of Modern Divinity, that what it entails is little different than Calvin's first use of the Law - to act as a goad and prod for stubborn sinners to see their need of Christ. I am thankful, ever thankful, that the Lord did place this republication in the clear context of the covenant of grace... that Christ is upheld in His righteousness so clearly through His obedience to the Law delivered at Sinai is critical for us to see. He satisfied in every particular the Law of God. He IS our righteousness. Thanks be to God for His marvelous grace and for His perfect Word through which we learn so clearly of His perfect redemption of His elect people.



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