Marrow of Modern Divinity – Covenant of Works

How Sin Came Into the World

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:  …Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.  (Romans 5:12-19)

Federal Theology

The passage from Romans 5 teaches us that in Adam’s sin, we all fell. The perfect image of God stamped onto man’s soul was marred and man became an enemy of God. Our representative failed us, BUT, by the grace of God, God’s chosen One, the surety of our salvation, performed the righteousness demanded by God on our behalf and merited our salvation for us.

 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,  To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

In this passage we have two Federal Heads – Adam and Christ. Adam, the first head of all mankind rebelled against God and plunged all those that were ‘in him’ into damnation. The second Federal head, Christ, redeemed all those that had fallen by taking on himself the nature of man and bearing away the curse of the law on their behalf. So, in God’s Providence, all men are fallen in their representative Adam or stand in their representative Christ.

So, there are two primary arrangements in Scripture related to man’s standing before God – (1) man’s initial testing before God in our father Adam, and (2) our standing before God, based upon his plan of redemption for mankind through Christ.

Testing of Man

Chapter 1 of the Marrow of Modern Divinity tackles the first relationship – the arrangement between God and man in the Garden of Eden, whereby man could and was enabled and advantaged to, if he so chose, to stand before God on the basis of his own works, by obedience to God’s revealed will. In The Marrow, Fisher refers to this as the ‘Law of Works’ (as against the ‘Law of Faith’ later to be revealed).

Summary of the Covenant of Works between God and Man

  • Adam representative of all humanity – As Adam stood/fell all humanity stood/fell
  • Adam was created perfect in his Holiness and Righteousness – Adam was made morally perfect and was created in perfect harmony with God’s Holiness

The perfect Holiness demanded by God’s just character is referred to by theologians as the moral law. Boston quotes the Westminster Larger Catechism’s definition of the moral law thus:

Thus the moral law is described to be, “the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all these duties of holiness and righteousness, which he oweth to God and man, promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.” Larger Catech. Quest. 93

Regarding the initial state of man after creation, we have from Scripture:
Genesis 1:27 – So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Matthew 5:48 – Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Ephesians 4:24 – And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

From Scripture, we have it that God created man morally upright and perfect and we know that God requires a perfect moral obedience. Adam was created this way and the man that is renewed by Christ is restored (buy only partially in this life) to righteousness and true holiness.

Covenant of Works

This moral obedience, or moral conformity to God’s perfect standard of Holiness, is called by Fisher and Boston in the Marrow the ‘law of works’ (after Romans 3:27) and is often called the Covenant of Works by reformed Covenant theologians to emphasize the particular arrangement between God and Adam in the testing of man. But is this arrangement between God and Adam as our representative actually in the form of a Covenant? From the Marrow, we have:

Nomista But, sir, you know there is no mention made in the book of Genesis of this covenant of works, which, you say, was made with man at first.

Evangelist Though we read not the word “covenant” betwixt God and man, yet have we there recorded what may amount to as much; for God provided and promised to Adam eternal happiness, and called for perfect obedience, which appears from God’s threatening, (Gen 2:17); for if man must die if he disobeyed, it implies strongly, that God’s covenant was with him for life, if he obeyed.

Nom But, sir, you know the word “covenant” signifies a mutual promise, bargain, and obligation betwixt two parties. Now, though it is implied that God promised man to give him life if he obeyed, yet we read not, that man promised to be obedient.

Evan I pray take notice, that God does not always tie man to verbal expressions, but doth often contract the covenant in real impressions in the heart and frame of the creature, and this was the manner of covenanting with man at the first; for God had furnished his soul with an understanding mind, whereby he might discern good from evil, and right from wrong: and not only so, but also in his will was most great uprightness, (Eccl 7:29); and his instrumental parts were orderly framed to obedience. The truth is, God did engrave in man’s soul wisdom and knowledge of his will and works, and integrity in the whole soul, and such a fitness in all the powers thereof, that neither the mind did conceive, nor the heart desire, nor the body put in execution, anything but that which was acceptable to God; so that man, endued with these qualities, was able to serve God perfectly.

Commenting on this exchange, Boston observes:

The covenant being revealed to man created after God’s own image, he could not but perceive the equity and benefit of it; and so heartily approve, embrace, accept, and consent to it. And this accepting is plainly intimated in Eve’s words to the serpent, (Gen 3:2,3), “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”

More on the Covenant of Works (what Fisher calls the ‘Law of Works’) in the next installment…


One thought on “Marrow of Modern Divinity – Covenant of Works

  1. Since the knowledge of good and bad was not yet learned by Adam and Eve,

    it seems hard for me to reason that God would allow with all his wisdom would have not known before hand,put the tree of knowledge and the serpent in their midst with out them being a part of a bigger picture . Since God, created us in his image, and we became like God (Gen3:22) when we attained the knowledge of good and bad showing us that God gave us the ability to learn. Who`s to say that our time on earth is not part of the furthering of knowledge for the future generations who are going to need, in particular, those who are chosen with the highest of moral that the kingdom of god on earth,witch will be likened to the one in heaven according to Gods will.

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