The Law Was Not the Gospel for Adam Either: Against the Covenant of Works

The real point of the law-gospel antithesis is not “conflict”. It is non-identity. The law is not the gospel. The gospel is not the law. The gospel, however, is about the satisfaction of God’s law for God’s elect. Though law and gospel are not the same thing, they are not opposed because they never claim to have the same function.

Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. The law never offered life off probation: only one sin would put Adam and his seed under its curse, and no matter how many acts of obedience to the law, the law could never promise everlasting life.

The antithesis does NOT understand Romans 10:4 in terms of abrogation. The “end of the law” is Christ completing all that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do. The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

Christians sin, and therefore their “fulfillment of the law” (see for example, Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But the law will not go unsatisfied.

The law, once satisfied by Christ, now demands the salvation of all the elect, for whom the law was satisfied. God the Father would not be just, and God the Son would not be glorified, if the distribution of the justly earned benefits were now conditioned on the imperfect faith of sinners. Yes, faith is necessary for the elect, but even this faith is a gift earned by the righteousness of God in Christ’s work.

This is how the law/gospel antithesis explains Romans 3:31. The law is not nullified but honored by Christ. The only way that its requirements will ever be fully satisfied in the elect (Romans 8:4) is by the imputation of what Christ earned. “

If the law were the gospel, even saying that there’s law (in the garden and now) would be “legalism”. But God is a legalist against legalism. God has told us that the law is not the gospel and that it never was the gospel. Romans 11:5—“So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is not on the basis of works; otherwise grace would not be grace.”

The legalist identifies law and gospel, and then reduces the demand to including what the Spirit does in the elect. But what God does in us (by grace) must be excluded from the righteousness.

The “covenant of works” theory teaches a ”hypothetical gospel” in which Adam supposedly “could have” earned righteousness for others by keeping the law. One clear way to say that the law is not the gospel is to say that the it was not the gospel for Adam either. But the “covenant of works” is not inherent to the law/gospel antithesis.

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28 Comments on “The Law Was Not the Gospel for Adam Either: Against the Covenant of Works”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    It is not necessary that we assume a contract between the Father and the Son in order to understand how our sins could have been imputed to Christ. It is only necessary that we see that Christ married the elect before the foundation of the world, and being married to the elect He could die in their place. Without the doctrine of limited atonement the whole of the gospel is emptied of its meaning.

    EW Johnson

  2. David Bishop Says:

    Wonderful dissemination of truth, Mark. Splendid essay! If the gospel is the promise of salvation conditioned on Jesus Christ alone without any contribution of works and merits from the sinner, then a false gospel is any gospel that promises or even leads to the promise of the opposite of this.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    At least the “covenant of works” guys believe in the justice of God, and that’s just as necessary and important to the gospel as believing in God’s sovereignty.

    When I was lost, I believed in God’s sovereignty but I did not believe in the justice of the atonement, in the necessary right of the elect to be saved by Christ’s death intended for them. So I like the emphasis of the “covenant of works” folks on justice.

    Let me say it this way. The federal visionists (Norm Shepherd, James Jordan, Leithart) all oppose the “covenant of works” and also “active obedience”. Does this mean that I need to support the “covenant of works” because I oppose the federal visionists? No.

    Those who teach the “covenant of works” also tend to think that opposition to infant baptism is a “slippery slope” that leads to Arminianism. They assume that any of us who see water baptism and communion as human works (and not God’s means of grace, God’s doing) are well on the way back to free-willism.

    But I don’t have to buy “the covenant of works” speculation in order to appreciate that one kind of covenant theology (Westminster California) does still know the difference between grace and law.

    The bigger problems are ” common grace” and the “free offer”, because both ideas teach that God’s love is for the non-elect and that the gospel is conditional on what God enables the sinner to do.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    The Protestant Reformed deny the covenant of works, but they do make distinction between law and gospel. We don’t need a covenant of works in order to believe in the justice of God. It was Adam’s duty not to sin, so no profit in obedience, no supererogation in it, no extra in it, nothing to store up in it, so no matter how long Adam can keep from sinning, still today-one sin, then he dies. He can’t earn immortality not even in the long-term.

    God did give the land to Abraham’s physical descendants. Not as everlasting possession though, not for the age to come, and never in quite the full fashion as we would expect; indeed, the most land they ever had at one time was probably during the time of the second temple.

    The land there and then was not the true intent behind God’s promise though.On a literal reading of the promise, exile is a bad thing, a punishment.

    We want to have our guy in as king. We don’t want to have their guy in, we don’t want to say God has predestined and ordained that it’s good to have this “not one of us” liar in charge over us. How can we sing the songs of Zion in the land of the pagans? We hang our harps on diaspora trees…

    “By faith Abraham)lived in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” – Hebrews 11:9-10

    1. I don’t agree with the Reformed tradition that Adam was under a “covenant of works. 2. But Adam was under law. 3. I agree that Abraham was under law (be circumcised or get cut off). Some Reformed theology ignores this part of Abraham. 4. Abraham did not fail. Gen 18:19 –”to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness, so that the Lord will bring to Abraham what the Lord has promised. Gen 22:16–”because you have done this and have not held back your son, your only son, I will surely bless you with children”. 5. But Abraham’s obedience (to intent to kill his son etc) is not the main thing. There is another promise (another aspect to the covenant) in which Abraham gets in (by grace, while ungodly) and stays in—-there will be one seed, Christ….

  5. markmcculley Says:

    I don’t think Piscator is guilty as is often assumed. I know that some of this debate is motivated by an agenda to identify the “moral law” with the Mosaic economy and the Ten Commandments. That in itself is no reason to reject the idea that the death forgives and that the vicarious lawkeeping does the positive, but it does always include the question. Which law did Christ keep? Sure, He was born under the Mosaic law? Does that mean that the promise of life is fulfilled in Christ’s keeping of the Mosaic legislation? Or must we say that Christ was on an unique mission from God, in a specific “covenant of redemption”, with duties only given to HIm and which could only be done by Him?

  6. markmcculley Says:

    1. I am not convinced that there is an “active obedience” defined as vicarious law-keeping. There is satisfaction to law by means of death.

    2.. Even if we disagree about vicarious law-keeping (and I would not fight about “active obedience”), it is a mistake to not include Christ’s death in Christ’s righteousness.

    3. Saying that Christ’s death is included in the righteousness does not demand saying that His death is all the righteousness. Romans 5:9–since we have now been justified by His blood. Romans 5:18 so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life.

    4. When we say Christ’s death, we must refer also to Christ’s resurrection. Texts often used to prove vicarious law-keeping mean resurrection. Rom 5:10 “We were reconciled to God by the death of His son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

    Romans 1:4 “and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.”

    5. Our future resurrections will themselves be declarations, visible verdicts.
    6. But none of this is meant in any way to deny that present justification is not ultimate. We are not on probation, we are not pardoned only, and our justification is not temporary or provisional. Why not? Because the death of Christ has already been imputed to us. And it is enough.

    Piscator says that Paul excludes all of our works from justification “whether they be done by the strength of free will or by grace.” Consequently, Piscator could readily agree with theWestminster Confession of Faith XI.1 that says that God does not justify sinners “for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness.”

    What, then, is the source of man’s righteousness? It is Christ’s satisfaction imputed to the believer. “God accepts Christ’s satisfaction for the elect…imputes the same unto them; and thereupon receives them into favor, and adopts them for sons and heirs of eternal life.” Many objected to Piscator’s view –they said that to have forgiveness of sins is not the same as being accounted righteous. They said that to have forgiveness only is to only be back where Adam began before sin.

    If Christ’s active obedience is not accounted as our righteousness, then how can Christ be our righteousness? Piscator responds that when sins are forgiven, someone is counted not only as not having done any sins but also as having done all things required. “Man’s justification consists in remission of all sins: and therefore not only of sins of committing,but also of sins of omitting.” Piscator would not agree that if only Christ’s passive obedience is imputed to us, then we ourselves must supply positive righteousness. Rather, once Christ’s satisfaction is imputed to us, we are in a state of having done everything required because our sins of omission are forgiven. Thus, for Piscator, the source of our righteousness in justification is only Christ’s satisfaction imputed to us.

    Piscator emphasizes that faith itself is excluded as a part of our righteousness before God. The consequence is that all of our works are excluded from our justification. While Christ’s satisfaction imputed to us is the sole source of our righteousness, we are by nature unrighteous. Further, even the righteous acts that we do after grace and faith are excluded from our justification, which, according to Piscator, continues to rest solely in the satisfaction of Christ imputed to us. He argues against Bellarmine that all of our works are excluded from our justification before God. He argues from the fact that Paul “speaks of works in general, whether they be done by the strength of free will or by grace,because Romans 4 speaks of Abraham’s works, those which he had done of grace and faith” Even those works that flow out of faith are clearly excluded from our justification. .”

    What are the results of this justification? For Piscator, we are not only forgiven of our sins, but we also have a right to eternal life, for when someone is justified, God “receives them into favor, and adopts them for sons and heirs of eternal life.” The reason why this can occur, according to Pisactor, is because God has said, “Do this, and you will live” (Lev. 18:5, Mt. 19:17, Gal. 3:12). “It comes about that he to whom God forgives sins, is so accounted as if he had not only committed nothing which God has forbidden in his law, but also omitted nothing of that which he has commanded: and therefore, as if he had perfectly fulfilled the law of God.”

    • markmcculley Says:

      Bruce Baughus-Calvin, however, develops a different line–one that makes no appeal to the infinite worth of the divine person but looks instead to the decretive will of God. We find this in his discussion of how we can correctly say that Christ has merited grace and salvation for us. Here he argues that,
      When we treat of the merit of Christ, we do not place the beginning in him, but we ascend to the ordination of God as the primary cause, because of his mere good pleasure he appointed a Mediator to purchase salvation for us (Institutes, 2.17.1).
      Instead of an appeal to the divine person of the Word incarnate who was that mediator, Calvin appeals to the arrangement decreed by God out “of his mere good pleasure.”

      –Calvin goes so far as to argue that “Christ could not merit anything save by the good pleasure of God,” meaning that “the merit of Christ depends entirely on the grace of God (which provided this mode of salvation for us)” (2.17.1).
      Curiously, Calvin’s argument has a decidedly Scotist ring to it. In typical Duns-ian fashion, the Scot developed a voluntaristic alternative to Thomas’s appeal to the divine person, arguing that since Christ’s work was accomplished by the Son as a man it necessarily has a finite value. As such, the sufficiency of Christ’s work–its infinite merit–is grounded in God’s counterfactual acceptance of his work as a full satisfaction for sin.
      That, to be clear, is not Calvin’s argument. Although both Scotus and Calvin agree that the will of God is the source of Christ’s merit, Calvin argues that Christ’s work has infinite merit on the basis of God’s decree. The difference may seem subtle but is significant: Scotus’s argument from the divine will to accept Christ’s work as counterfactually sufficient is later developed by Hugo Grotius into his moral governmental theory of the atonement. Calvin’s view precludes such development

    • markmcculley Says:

      A close examination of Piper’s book,Counted Righteous in Christ can help us to see how this confusion has arisen. Mr. Piper wrote his book to support the doctrine of imputation of the righteousness of Christ – a doctrine for which there is strong biblical support.

      However, it becomes clear throughout the book that Mr. Piper is writing less to support the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer and more to support the doctrine associated with active obedience of Christ. We affirm and wholeheartedly support the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the sinner for our justification, but we do not extend that endorsement to the imputation of the active obedience of Christ – and that is what Counted is all about.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    John Calvin—The promise (promissio), which gave him hope of eternal life as long as he should eat of the tree of life (arbore vitae),

  8. markmcculley Says:

    if Adam had grace before Adam sinned, then there is “common grace”—-the employment of Barthian doctrine (specifically, the notion of the priority of grace to law resulting in denial of the traditional Protestant Law/Gospel antithesis) by Norman Shepherd, Richard Gaffin, Sinclair Ferguson, David Garner – See more at:

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Jesus was not a Christian
    Torrance argued for an “active obedience” in which Christ repented for us, believed for us, was born again for us, was converted for us, and worships for us. “We must think of him as taking our place even in our acts of repentance” (The Mediation of Christ, p 95)
    Donald Macleod responds (Christ Crucified, 2014, p 219)—There is a great discontinuity between Christ and those he came to save. They were sinners and Christ was not. Christ could not trust in God’s forgiveness because he had no need of forgiveness. He could not be born again because he required no changed of heart. He could not be converted because His life demanded no change of direction.
    If we move from the idea of Jesus as a believer to the idea of Jesus as the one who is believed IN, does Jesus believe, vicariously, in Himself?….It is not his faith that covers the deficiencies of our faith (as it is given to us by God). It is Christ’s death that covers the deficiencies of our faith…Our faith is not in the Son of God who believed for us, but in the Son of God who gave Himself for us

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Berkhof – ST 1.) Objection: “Christ needed His active obedience for Himself as a man. Being under the law, He was in duty bound to keep it for Himself. Answer: In answer to this it may be said that Christ, though possessing a human nature, was yet a divine person, and as such was not subject to the law in its federal aspect, the law as the condition of life in the covenant of works. As the last Adam, however, He took the place of the first. The first Adam was by nature under the law of God, and the keeping of it as such gave him no claim to a reward. It was only when graciously entered into a covenant with him and promised him life in the way of obedience, that the keeping of the law was made the condition of obtaining eternal life for himself and for his descendants. And when Christ voluntarily entered the federal relationship as the last Adam, the keeping of the law naturally acquired the same significance for Him and for those whom the Father had given Him. (380-381) 2.) Objection: God demands, or can demand, only one of two things of the sinner: either obedience to the law, or subjection to the penalty, but not both. Answer: If the law is obeyed, the penalty cannot be inflicted; and if the penalty is borne, nothing further can be demanded. There is some confusion here, however, which results in misunderstanding. This “either…or” applied to the case of Adam before the fall, but ceased to apply the moment he sinned and thus entered the penal relationship of the law. God continued to demand obedience of man, but in addition to that required of his that he pay the penalty for past transgression. Meeting this double requirement was the only way of life after sin entered the world. If Christ had merely obeyed the law and had not also paid the penalty He would not have won the title to eternal life for sinners; AND IF He had merely paid the penalty, without meeting the original demands of the law, He would have left man in the position of Adam before the fall, still confronted with the task of obtaining eternal life in the way of obedience. By His active obedience, however, He carried His people beyond that point and gave them a claim to everlasting life. (381
    ” the keeping of it as such gave him no claim to a reward. It was only when graciously entered into a covenant with him and promised him life in the way of obedience”——there are two questions already here, one is what is the reward of obedience. Instead of assuming that the reward is immortality, or life off probation and law, and also these things for his posterity, the text says—-die or not die. So some big assumptions are being read into “reward”. The second question may be more practical to you, brad—where Berkhof say that the covenant of works was graciously entered into, and the confession speaks of “condescension”, Kline and Irons and Karlberg rightly question why we should assume grace before the fall. In other words, even if there was this covenant of works with adam (Adam merits immortality, plan a), why call that “grace” when it should be called merit due the creature by justice?

    This “either…or” applied to the case of Adam before the fall, but ceased to apply the moment he sinned —-it’s always interesting to me how Reformed theology plays loose with covenantal continuity. On the one hand, it won’t say covenants, but will only say ‘the covenant”. But on the other hand, it will say “covenant of grace” and “covenant of works”, so that the covenant of works with Moses is a republication of the covenant of the works with Adam, and not a distinct covenant. And yet on the other hand, this covenant of works is both changed and unchanged after Adam’s sin. Read the sentence quoted. After the fall, things change–now a penalty needs to be paid. But also, after the fall, things still don’t change—somebody needs to do what Adam could have done, obey long enough (who knows how long) to get the reward (with the assumption being that the reward is that this person and those represented are then no longer under the covenant of works). This is cherry picking, some times excused by the idea that “well, sin complicates things. But the root of the problem is saying that the Mosaic covenant is not a distinct covenant but “an administration of the one covenant of works”. And then you get the further problem of “and oh also it’s an administration of the covenant of works, but changed”.

    We need a bible proof-text for “active obedience”. It needs to explain how the one act of righteousness by Christ in Romans 5 is not ‘the active obedience”, since Christ’s death only get us back to neutral in Adam, is only for forgiveness, and not for positive righteousness. Even though Romans 5 does say that grace will reign through the righteousness of Christ’s one act of obedience. If Christ’s death does not count as “active obedience”, does his birth count as active obedience”? Does His resurrection count as “active obedience? Does his present intercession count as “active obedience”? if you had a Bible proof text, maybe you could answer these questions. But since you don’t, all you have is the speculations of Berkhof and those committed to “one covenant, with administrations”.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    ‘the covenant of works” sounds like it’s saying

    don’t sin for long enough
    then you CAN eat from the tree of life

    don’t sin for long enough
    then you won’t be under the covenant of works anymore,
    and once you are no longer under the law,
    then you can sin and the sin won’t be counted to you

    what is your reward for your success at “the covenant of works”?
    it can’t be eating from the tree of life
    because Adam could do that already as soon as he became living soul
    and that tree would be cut off only if he sinned

    what would have been the reward for Adam’s success at “covenant of works”?
    some preterists say it would have a two stage reward
    1. then he would get permission to eat from the tree of knowledge
    2, then he could finally die, and get that new spiritual soul in heaven

    no more earth, no more body

    how do you spell yippee?

  12. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones–Anselm argued that Christ, as a rational being, owed obedience to God. But to make satisfaction on behalf of sinners, Christ had to go beyond a life of obedience – he had to die. As the God-man, Christ’s death was therefore supererogatory – a death above God’s requirement of him. His death is superabundant to make satisfaction for sins. Gataker and Vines, for example, used Anselm’s argument to reject the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Christ’s death was supererogatory and therefore his death merited eternal life. In other words, Gataker and Vines argued Anselm’s point that Christ’s obedience is required, but his death is not required; ergo: only the merits of Christ’s death are imputed to believers,

  13. markmcculley Says:

    the comparison between Adam and Christ is that the guilt of Adam’s one act of disobedience is imputed to the elect and that the righteousness of Christ’s one act of obedience is imputed to the elect. Adam and Christ were NOT born under the same law. Christ was born under the Mosaic law, but Adam was not. Christ came to die to win immortality for the elect. Adam was threatened with death for disobedience, but was never promised immortality no matter what he would ever do.

  14. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 8:3-4 What the law could not do since it was limited by our flesh, God DID by sending His son to keep the Mosaic law for us, 4 in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who are legally united to his Mosaic law keeping

    Hebrews 10: 10 By this will of God, we have been sanctified not only through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all time because that would merely leave us where Adam started but we have been sanctified through the offering of the Mosaic law keeping of Jesus Christ for 33 years (since he was not killed as a baby)

    11 Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this great high priest did take away sins, but that was not enough to take away our sins of omission against the covenant of works, so this man, before offering one sacrifice for sins forever, day after day for 33 years kept the Mosaic law an there would be no hope only in the death if it were not for what Christ did to satisfy the law before then because not even His death would have been enough to perfect permanently those who are sanctified.

    II Cor 5: 21 He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, but that alone was not enough in order for us to become the righteousness of God in Him, so He also had the One to not only not sin, but to do positive acts and works to keep the Mosaic law, and it is that positive stuff He did (not the death) which is the righteousness which is imputed to us which causes us to legally become the righteousness of God in Christ

  15. markmcculley Says:

    why must we keep talking about what Adam “could have done” or “might have done”?

    was God’s plan a to be glorified in a church of human Adams who never sinned? (Ephesians 3:20)

    Amyraut—“Sin seems to have changed not only the whole face of the universe, but even the entire design of the first creation, and if one may speak this way, seems to have induced to adopt new counsels”

    and thus God becomes the God who declares not the end from the beginning but the end from the fall

    the fall is conditioned on the sinner, and the creation is either plan a or no plan at all

    did God make the world, and then decide (after man decided) what to do with the world

    why must we deny that death is God’s work also?

    why must we deny that the fall of Adam is God’s work also?

  16. markmcculley Says:


    Barcellos: In his book Tablets of Stone, Reisinger argues that the Old Covenant was for Israel alone and also, contradicting himself, that Christ fulfilled its terms for New Covenant Christians. Owen teaches that Christ fulfilled the terms of the Adamic covenant of works for Christians . Owen taught that obedience or disobedience to the Old Covenant in itself neither eternally saved
    nor eternally condemned anyone and that its promises were temporal and only for Israel while under it. According to Owen, what Christ kept for us was the original Adamic covenant of
    works, not the Mosaic covenant.

    Coxe deals with the covenants from the covenant of works
    through the Covenant of Circumcision. Owen deals with the Mosaic and New Covenants in his Hebrews commentary. Both may have held to the ‘each covenant has its own positive law’
    motif, though if so, they applied it differently when it came to the subjects of baptism. But neither used it to eliminate the Decalogue from the New Covenant.

    Radical antinomians eliminate the Decalogue because it is law. Doctrinal antinomians eliminate it because it is Moses’ Law and not Christ’s. This has detrimental implications for the identity of the Natural Law, the basis of the covenant of works, the perpetuity of the Moral Law, the Sabbath, and the imputation of the active obedience of Christ–indeed, the gospel itself

  17. Scott Clark—“We might say that God graciously promised life to Adam, before the fall, on the basis of perfect and personal obedience to the covenant of works, the covenant of law, or the covenant of nature. The Westminster Divines, however, quite wisely avoided injecting grace into the covenant of works by speaking of God’s “voluntary condescension” in making a covenant of works with Adam (and with us in him). The effect of this expression is to focus attention on God’s freedom but without introducing his favor to sinners which, properly, was not yet in view inasmuch as Adam was not a sinner when God made the covenant of works.”

    We don’t need two different kingdoms, with one law for one kingdom and another law for another kingdom. But we do need law and gospel and the distinction between the two.

    The OPC Minority Report was not written by theonomists. Yet it correctly denies that God loves all the little children of the world. And it very much “quibbles” when the will of God’s command is confused with the idea that God does not get to happen what God wishes to happen.

    The ability of God to condemn Adam for Adam’s first sin does not depend on Adam’s ability to not sin. The ability of God to condemn us for Adam’s first sin imputed to us does not depend on the law God gave to Adam being thought of as “grace”.. Nor does it depend on the law God gave to Adam being thought of as a “covenant of works with a promised reward of immortality”.

    God’s law is not based on our ability. It’s Pelagian to say that law given means ability given.

    You don’t have to say there’s ability to keep the law in order for the law to be law. This is one of the reasons why the requirement for Christians to obey law should NOT be based on the fact that these Christians are “able not to sin”.

  18. Once you flatten out covenant change into monocovenantalism (one covenant of grace, different administrations) , you can promote ritualism. If typology is not about future realities now accomplished, then you don’t think fthe types are finished yet. And so you continue with types, so that one type (physical circumcision) is supposedly fulfilled not by reality but by another type (infant water baptism) and then the new covenant is postponed once again, and you don’t really have anything new yet, but only a continuity in which covenant can’t change substantially but only “ceremonially” (cherry-picking what’s accidental and not of the substance) and so the rituals of the OT keep going on To flatten out the covenants, you need to avoid restricting yourself to what the Bible says. Biblicism is the enemy of the Confessions. . Biblicists attack the covenant of works only because the language is not in Genesis

  19. 43, The purpose of God with Adam—and his covenant—was his failure. Adam must fail, God willed it so. He decreed the fall of Adam. This in no way minimizes the sin of Adam, any more than the Reformed’s insistence upon God’s sovereignty over the fall of Adam minimizes Adam’s sin

    Herman Hoeksema–The covenant of works really always makes us stand nostalgically with our noses against the fence of Paradise, with the futile wish that Adam had not fallen! For after all, if it be true that Adam also was able to earn that which Christ now bestows on us, if only he had remained standing, then it remains eternally tragic that the First Paradise is no longer there and that we did not receive eternal life through the obedience of the first man

    42, The covenant of works makes Christ’s work only a work of recovery—a remedy—which on a closer analysis is not as full as the original work in Adam could have been. Christ merely won what Adam demerited and only some of what Adam could have attained. Adam, by his simple obedience to the probationary command, could have merited the glorious heavenly life that Christ merited t. In addition, Adam, by merely abstaining from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, could have earned eternal life for all humanity without exception, while Christ earned eternal life for only the elect, and the rest of humanity will perish. Adam, then, could have merited not only more easily, but also for a much greater number of people than those for whom Christ merited.”

    Turretin says, “Christ acquired the eternal and celestial life which he bestows upon us in no other way than that…he fulfilled the righteousness…of the law for us (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 4:5). This could not have been done unless the law had promised heavenly life to the obedient.” Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1:584.

    Why could Christ merit, while it was impossible for Adam to merit? The answer is in 1 Corinthians 15:45–50. Adam was of the earth earthy. He was a mere man. Besides, he was an earthy man. Christ was not a mere man, as Adam was, but was “the Lord from heaven,” and, “a quickening spirit.” He is the Lord who came as the Servant of Jehovah. He is the Son who worked as the Servant. He willingly placed Himself under the law. He restored what He took not away. Only Christ can take the covenant to the heights of heaven and the glories of the resurrection. Only Christ can take the covenant to heights that were entirely impossible with Adam. We deny that Adam could merit. We insist that Christ, only Christ, can merit. This was not unworthy of God because in the incarnate Son, God paid God what God was due from Man

    Engelsma–The covenant of grace is not conditional, and it does not allow for the merits of a mere man. . If God had condescended to allow Adam to merit by virtue of covenant, why cannot God condescend in the covenant of grace to allow salvation conditioned on mere men?

    The covenant of creation was given by God with the very creation of Adam out of the dust of the ground and was not added to His creation at some point after His creation

  20. markmcculley Says:

    Kuyper— “The demand for holiness belongs to the Covenant of Works”

    mark—and if we said “the law” instead of “cov of works” would saying it this way kill us and destroy the gospel?

    Kuyper–“But God gave the Covenant of Grace to unholy men. ”

    mark—But if we said God gave the gospel to unholy sinners, we could say it as Lutherans and Baptists not only Reformed.

  21. markmcculley Says:

    Adam had the tree of life
    if you have the tree, you have life
    Adam had life
    if you lose the tree, you lose life
    if you have Christ, you have life
    if you have Christ, you will never lose Christ
    if you have Christ, you will always have Christ
    if you have Christ, you will always have life … I John 5:12 The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life

    • markmcculley Says:

      Liam Goligher—-“All future covenants will be variations of the covenant with Adam…. Adam was in a state of rectitude, perfectly capable of obeying this law, and this law is not a terribly restricting law…If Adam had obeyed, he would have presumably gone on to have children for many years and then presumably, at some point, Adam and his children would have been granted access to the tree of life and given transformed eternal glorious bodies….” God, Adam and You, Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, P and R, p 73-74

      ot the death alone, but also the suffering

      not the death alone, but also the active obedience to the law of Moses

      Joel Beeke, p 148, God Adam and You, P and R, 2015—–“The work of the second Adam was not merely to die but to obey in all things.

      Jonathan Edwards–“What Christ did brought life, not ONLY as a sacrifice but it had the nature of meriting….Christ’s active obedience was JUST AS NECESSARY to satisfy the honor of God’s law as was His death.”

      After you first tell me that the passive was also the active, and then you tell me that we must not divide or separate the passive from the active, and then after you separate the passive from the active by saying it was not enough alone…..

      Did what Christ did in His death alone have the nature of meriting?

      Is Christ’s death what Christ Did, or is the Death only what was done to Christ?

    • markmcculley Says:

      God did not want Adam and Eve to know everything God knows True
      God does not want us to know everything God knows True
      God was afraid of Adam and Eve False
      God is afraid of us False
      Adam and Eve were not yet allowed to kill snakes False
      Adam and Eve were not yet allowed to eat from the Tree of Life False

  22. markmcculley Says:

    This guy says that being put out of the garden is on the basis of works, and that staying in the garden is on the basis of works, but that getting back into the garden is not on the basis of works. But he doesn’t give any reason for the contrast he assumes. If you confuse law and mercy at the beginning, there is no reason to stop confusing law and mercy later on.

    To compare Adam being put out of the garden to somebody being put out of “the church” or out of “the covenant” is to claim that the punishment for sin is “mercy”. To say that God’s mercy keeps you from breaking the law is not to depend on God’s mercy in Christ.

    To say that Adam already had ‘spiritual life” and that Adam could have and would have earned justification by works is to make Christ plan B. There is no reason to deny that Adam ate from the tree of life before he sinned, but there is also no reason to think that the tree of life was the tree of justification.

    Those who assume that all humans will always exist deny that any humans ever really die. So they deny that being separated from the tree of life is the death which is the wages of sin. They only make a distinction between living in the presence of God, or living in “hell where God is not present”. But this guy knows that ‘returning to the dust” does not mean non-existence but something bad like exile or “spiritual death”

    The next time you hear somebody say that “eternal life” is not about continuing to exist in time but about “quality of life”, ask them why “eternal life” cannot be BOTH knowing Christ and knowing Christ in time forever. A false logic gives us false alternatives.

    Seven Theses on the Two Trees

    Covenants and “signs and seals” go hand-in-hand – We find this with Noah (rainbow), Abraham (circumcision) the Old Covenant (circumcision, Passover, and one could include its various ceremonies), and the New Covenant (Baptism & the Supper). The trees are “signs and seals” of the Covenant of Works in Eden.
    The trees do not function mechanically – Roman Catholics have taken the view that sacraments operate in a mechanical fashion, by the performance of the rite (termed ex opere operato). The Reformed view sacraments as being a sort of pledge, physically-restating the message of the covenant to strengthen the recipient, when that message is received by faith. Hence, the tree of knowledge of good and evil warned Adam that his quest for God’s wisdom (autonomy in moral matters) would bring death. But eating from that tree did not work death mechanically (Adam didn’t experience some sort of food poisoning); rather, God arrived to enact the judgment that was threatened by the tree, the “thing-signified”.
    The two trees are associated with covenant blessing and covenant curse – God declared concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die”. And the other tree was called “the tree of life”. Hence, one tree proclaims its curse-sanction (death) and the other, the blessing-sanction (life). In the Covenant of Works, obedience leads to eternal life while disobedience leads to death.
    Adam and Eve were encouraged to eat from the tree of life before the Fall – God gave them permission to eat from every tree except one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Again, the tree of life isn’t mechanical, magically bestowing eternal life and glory. Rather, it served as a pledge to them, reassuring them that their perfect obedience would bring about the blessing of eternal life. This would occur in God’s time – they possessed spiritual life, but it was not yet eternal life, glorification. In a similar fashion, the Supper reassures us that Christ’s perfect obedience will bring about this blessing in God’s time. The sacraments reassure and strengthen, which was the purpose of the tree of life, to strengthen Adam’s resolve to fulfill the Covenant of Works.
    The tree of life is about God’s countenance, not perpetuity – Eternal life is not about perpetuity of existence (the way most seem to define it). Rather, it is about dwelling in the presence of God. Even the serpent will experience perpetuity of existence. The difference between the blessing and the curse is not perpetuity but dwelling in or away from God’s blessed-Presence. Adam had spiritual life in the Garden, dwelling with God, and his exile from the Garden was truly death. So, too, Israel would experience life in the land of Canaan, but their exile would be their death. Surely, Adam’s return to the dust is connected, but this is symptomatic of his spiritual death.
    Taking from the tree of life after the Fall would not necessarily have resulted in Hell – Surely, sacraments of blessing (e.g., Baptism and the Supper) can be taken wrongly. And taking them wrongly invokes judgment (upon the reprobate) or discipline (upon the elect). Hypothetically, had they eaten from the tree of life after sinning they would have incurred some negative consequence, but we do not know what it would have been. An analogy would be when someone unworthily partakes of the Lord’s Supper unworthily (1 Cor. 11). That does not cast one instantly into Hell, though it is certainly a most grievous sin.
    Their exile from the Garden is the first act of “Church discipline” – They broke the Covenant of Works. Therefore, they are no longer privy to obtaining eternal life (pledged by the tree of life) under that covenant. As covenant-breakers, God casts them out. Is it merciful? Sure, insofar as it is merciful to keep someone from the Lord’s Supper that is an unworthy participant. But I think it is more centrally an act of judgment, an exercise of the keys of the kingdom. While we consider church discipline “merciful” (1) in keeping the unworthy from heaping up judgment by wrongly partaking of the sacraments and (2) in the goal of promoting their repentance, it is more centrally an act of “cutting off” the covenant-breaker. Adam and Eve are cast out of the Covenant-of-Works-Church, and the doors are shut and locked behind them. Their re-entrance into God’s Presence would not be according to their works (the Covenant of Works). Rather, they would only find readmission to God’s Presence through the works of the particular Seed that would crush the Serpent’s head, thus warranting Woman’s new name, Eve (“Life-Giver”). Praise God that, being ejected from the kingdom as it was manifest in Eden and constituted by the Covenant of Works, Adam and Eve were received into the Church as it was constituted by the Covenant of Grace. In other words, they began to walk by faith in God’s gracious promise (Pilgrims looking to the future), not by sight (beholding God in the Garden in Eden).

  23. markmcculley Says:

    Since there was never but one gospel (one way of justification), does this mean that the Abrahamic covenant is (mostly) the same as the new covenant?


    If only one gospel means only one covenant, then there is no (important) difference between the Mosaic covenant and Abrahamic covenant.

    If only one gospel means one covenant, that would mean that the law given to Adam was a “covenant of works for salvation”.

    But God gave Adam law before Adam sinned, and God did not give Adam the gospel before Adam needed the gospel.

    The gospel is NOT that Christ kept a covenant of works. The gospel is that Christ died for all the sins of the elect.

    Adam keeping the Mosaic law for us is not our righteousness
    Christ keeping the Mosaic law for us is not our righteousness.

    Covenant of works folks focus on our problem as Adam’s failure to do enough in “the covenant of works”! But we sinners need Christ’s death because we are all born condemned by Adam’s first sin.

  24. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones–The more I actually read the Early Modern Reformed Orthodox the more I realized that what was passing for Reformed theology in America was, in fact, a bastardization of Reformed orthodoxy. Slogans, scare-words (“Sounds FV”), and the like were used, but very few people wanted to actually engage the sources. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard: “We can’t talk that way now because of Norman Shepherd….As for the “right” versus “possession” distinction– quite frankly, I hadn’t heard many talk about until years ago when I and a few others started writing on this distinction

    RG– while a large number of Reformed exegetes have understood the scenario in Romans chapter 2 verse 7 and 10 and 13 in a hypothetical sense – as a genuine offer of the law – not the gospel which no one, in fact, can fulfill. While that is an established reformed understanding, there have also been other exegetes, within the reformed tradition, that have questioned that understanding. And you see that at least for verses 6 to 11 very clearly in John Murray’s Romans commentary…. Murray understands that to be describing what will actually be the case for believers. At the day of judgment they will … when God’s righteous judgment will be … when God will give to each person according to his works … that will, in terms of verse 7 … believers will be those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality. And they will receive eternal life. That is John Murray’s teaching on that passage.

    AW – John Murray on Romans 2:13 …It needs to be noted, however, that at this point the apostle restricts himself to the judgment of condemnation. And this advises us that he is dealing now with the equity of God’s judgment of damnation as it is brought to bear upon men who fall into these two categories. This is significant. Whatever is meant by those who are “without law’ there is no suggestion to the effect that any who are “without law’ attain to the reward of eternal life.… can you reconcile the two statements by John Murray here?

    RG –from page 71 on 2:13. Let me read it, what Murray says and then comment.–“It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching on this epistle in later chapters. Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture.”

    RG– I think Murray is leaving it an open question here. whether or not there will be anyone at the final judgment justified by works .. I think really it’s regrettable we don’t have Professor Murray here to ask this question because I think … my own view in the light of what he has said, and said so clearly about the judgment according to works in chapter two …would argue for understanding verse 13 here in the same way as describing an actual positive outcome. But he does, as you are pointing out, back away from that….. in my own view … it is Professor Murray that is in a bit of a tension here … And I would just accent again that in his understanding of verses 6-11, he has broken with a large number of Reformed interpreters in arguing that that describes a real judgment scenario with a positive outcome.

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