Saturday, August 07, 2010

0 Marrow Theology: The Covenant of Works and of Grace, and the Covenant Heads, Adam and Christ

As I read again first chapters of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, I come again to the following thought (bold as it may be). Please forgive the length of this post, also - but this is so incredibly important to understand that I'm taking the risk of going on at length.

If one misunderstands the relationship between Adam and Christ, then it is certain that he will horribly foul up the relationship between God and His elect people in covenant. Put slightly differently, the right understanding of God's covenant of grace, and of Christ's saving work requires one to properly understand the roles of Adam and Christ with respect to the people with whom they stand in union, and with respect to the primordial covenant of works. As Boston argues in his notes, Christ must be seen as standing in the sinner's room regarding the covenant of works (to use common Puritan verbiage) to redeem them from the condemnation the sinner faces due to his place as a son of Adam. In short: messing up the covenant of works messes up the covenant of grace.

Fisher begins his discussion of the gospel by laying out its character as the declaration of an accomplished work of God's sovereign grace:
"The law of faith is as much as to say the covenant of grace, or the Gospel, which signifies good, merry, glad, and joyful tidings; that is to say, that God, to whose eternal knowledge all things are present, and nothing past or to come, foreseeing man's fall, before all time purposed, and in time promised, and in the fulness of time performed,f the sending of his Son Jesus Christ into the world, to help and deliver fallen mankind." (p. 63, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
The gospel is not, per se, an "offer" (as is commonly misconstrued) but rather it is news of God's work in Christ, securing eternally His elect people. It is the cry of the advance messenger, declaring the good news of victory to a people in battle. The gospel MUST be seen in this light, and continually promoted among God's people as the certain and secure solution that God has given for the sin of His people - the salvation of His elect. When the gospel becomes something less than news, something different than a sovereign proclamation of a work accomplished, then the effect is the same as twisting justification into something other than the declarative act of our Sovereign, Almighty God. People run naturally to justify themselves and save themselves through something they do (whether that be works in the purest and grossest sense, or even 'acts of faith').
"before there could be reconciliation made, there must be two things effected; (1.) A satisfaction of God's justice. (2.) A reparation of man's nature: which two things, must needs be effected by such a middle and common person that had both zeal towards God, that he might be satisfied ; and compassion towards man, that he might be repaired : such a person, as having man's guilt and punishment translated on him, might satisfy the justice of God, and as having a fulness of God's Spirit and holiness in him, might sanctify and repair the nature of man. And this could be none other but Jesus Christ, one of the Three Persons of the blessed Trinity ; therefore He, by his Father's ordination, his own voluntary offering, and the Holy Spirit's sanctification, was fitted for the business." (p. 64, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
At this juncture, Thomas Boston adds the following clarifying note, which is critical:
"As man lay in ruins, by the fall guilty and unclean, there stood in the way of his salvation, by mercy designed, 1. The justice of God, which could not admit the guilty creature; and, 2. The holiness of God, which could not admit the unclean and unholy creature to communion with him. Therefore, in the contrivance of his salvation, it was necessary that provision should be made for the satisfaction of God's justice, by payment of the double debt mentioned above ; namely, the debt of punishment, and the debt of perfect obedience." (p. 66, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Again... if we do not understand that perfect obedience was required by covenant, and that all humanity was dashed in Adam's sin, and stood in broken covenant because of Adam's disobedience a la Romans 5, then we cannot properly understand Christ's salvation properly at all. We do not, therefore, understand that not only is satisfaction of the penalty required (a penalty given in covenant terms in the Garden, no less!) but so is perfect obedience. It is precisely this double act that is required, and this double act that is denied by some in Reformed circles today, and is a cause of much confusion.

We need to understand that Christ undertook, as the children's catechism we use with our younger girls goes, "To keep the whole law for his people, and to suffer the punishment due to their sins". We stand, as human beings, condemned under the law, and needed rescue - from our guilt and our pollution, which involves a two-fold mercy that God alone in Christ provides His people, as Boston noted.

This salvation, we need to recognize, is one brought forth in eternity past by the covenanting together of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, in what historically has been designated the Covenant of Redemption. Salvation is not a "plan B" brought about by God, but designed from all eternity as the means by which God would be most glorified. Fisher draws our attention to this covenant as follows:
"Whereupon there was a special covenant, or mutual agreement made between God and Christ, as is expressed, Isa. liii. 1 0, that if Christ would make himself a sacrifice for sin, then he should "see his seed, he should prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord should prosper by him." So in Psalm Ixxxix. 19, the mercies of this covenant between God and Christ, under the type of God's covenant with David, are set forth : " Thou speakest in vision to thy holy One, and saidst, I have laid help upon One that is mighty :" or, as the Chaldee expounds it, "One mighty in the law." As if God had said concerning his elect, I know that these will break, and never be able to satisfy me ; but thou art a mighty and substantial person, able to pay me, therefore I will look for my debt of thee." (p. 64, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Christ did obey - and did satisfy (as it were, actively and passively) all the requirements of the Law for His elect. He covenanted with His Father to take our punishment, and to obey for us, that we might be imputed with His spotless righteousness. Fisher continues:
"As Pareus well observes, God did, as it were, say to Christ, What they owe me I require all at thy hands. Then said Christ, "Lo I come to do thy will ! in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God! yea thy law is in my heart," Psalm xl. 7, 8. Thus Christ assented, and from everlasting struck hands with God, to put upon him man's person, and to take upon him his name, and to enter in his stead in obeying his Father, and to do all for man that he should require, and to yield in man's flesh the price of the satisfaction of the just judgment of God, and, in the same flesh, to suffer the punishment that man had deserved ; and this he undertook under the penalty that lay upon man to have undergone." (p. 64-65, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
In order to satisfy for His people - Christ willingly (and here is the catch for some) enters into the terms of the covenant of Works for us, in order to bring us safely home.

Boston notes here:
"The Son of God consented to put himself in man's stead, in obeying his Father, and so to do all for man that his Father sliould require, that satisfaction sliould be made : farther, he consented in man's nature, to satisfy and suffer the deserved punishment, that the same nature that sinned might satisfy ; and yet farther, he undertook to bear the very same penalty that lay upon man, by virtue of the covenant of works, to have undergone; so making himsilf a j)roper surety for them, who, as the author observes, must pay the sum of money that the debtor oweth." (p. 66, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
If we miss this point, I don't see how we can rightly understand the Covenant of Grace! The Covenant of Grace, in which we are united to Christ as our Head, and as the Second Adam, requires that we already stand condemned under the Covenant of Works - which ALL HUMANITY stand condemned under at conception. The Covenant of Grace envisions broken man - condemned, guilty and polluted - at the outset, and from that condemnation we must be rescued. This requires Christ to undertake the Law with perfect, spotless obedience as condition for Him to perform the work of redeeming His people. I honestly cannot understand why some find this so objectionable - and don't quite understand how the Covenant of Grace works in any other way. Romans 5:12-21 clearly portrays Christ as the second Adam - as one standing in Adam's place to take his role as a new Head of God's people. As such, He must satisfy what Adam did not.... must he not?

Anyway, enough of my spouting. Let's let Fisher finish things off with his comments (and those of Boston), which are so beautifully put as to stand on their own as an excellent summary of Christ's atoning work for us:
"And thus did our Lord Jesus Christ enter into the same covenant of works that Adam did to deliver believers from it : he was contented to be under all that commanding, revenging authority, which that covenant had over them, to free them from the penalty of it ; and in that respect, Adam is said to be a type of Christ, as you have it, Rom. v. 14, "Who was the type of him that was to come." To which purpose, the titles which the apostle gives these two, Christ and Adam, are exceeding observable : he calls Adam the "first man," and Christ our Lord the "second man," 1 Cor. xv. 47; speaking of them as if there never had been any more men in the world besides these two ; thereby making them head and root of all mankind, they having, as it were, the rest of the sons of men included in them. The first man is called the "earthy man ;" the second man, Christ, is called the "Lord from heaven," I Cor. xv. 47. The earthy man had all the sons of men born into the world included in him, and is so called, in confortnity unto them, the "first man:"--the second Man, Christ, is called the "Lord from heaven," who had all the elect included in him, who are said to be the "first born," and to have their "names written in heaven," Heb. xii. 23, and therefore are appositely called "heavenly men;" so that these two, in God's account, stood for all the rest. And thus you see, that the Lord, willing to show mercy to the fallen creature, and withal to maintain the authority of his law, took such a course as might best manifest his clemency and severity. Christ entered into covenant, and became surety for man, and so became liable to man's engagements : for he that answers as a surety must pay the same sum of money that the debtor oweth.

And thus have I endeavoured to show you, how we are to conceive of God's eternal purpose in sending of Jesus Christ to help and deliver fallen mankind." (p. 65, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Thomas Boston, in his notes on this passage, sums up Christ's work in regard to the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace in these words. Would that Christians all would understand the glory of God that ensues from an understanding like this!
"Our Lord Jesus Christ became surety for the elect in the second covenant, Heb. viii. 22 ; and in virtue of that suretyship, whereby lie put him self in the room of the principal debtors, he came under the same covenant of works that Adam did; in so far as the fulfilling of that covenant in their stead was the very condition required of him, as the second Adam in the second covenant. Gal. iv. 4, 5, " God sent forth his Son ; made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law." Thus Christ put his neck under the yoke of the law as a covenant of works, to redeem them who were under it as such. Hence he is said to be the " end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth," Rom. x. 4 ; namely, the end for consummation, or perfect fulfilling of it by his obedience and death, which presupposeth his coming under it. And thus the law as a covenant of works was magnified and made honourable; and it clearly appears how "by faith we establish the law," Rom. iii. 31. How then is the second covenant a covenant of grace? In respect of Christ, it was most properly and strictly a covenant of works, in that he made a proper, real, and full satisfaction in behalf of the elect ; but in respect of them, it is purely a covenant of richest grace, in as much as God accepted the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them ; provided the surety himself, and gives all to them freely for his sake." (p. 66-67, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
These last words are the kicker. Christ satisfied the terms of the first covenant - requiring perfect obedience, and that the penalty for disobedience be paid. These He undertook as our surety, under the terms of the Covenant of Redemption, made with the Father before time began... and these we benefit from, receiving the glorious inheritance of God, eternal life, immutably Holy in glory after death - an immutable condition and communion that was to be Adam's (and ours) had he obeyed in the first place. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!



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