Marrow of Modern Divinity – Covenant of Works, part 2


The Covenant of Works

In the last installment of this series looking at the Marrow of Modern Divinity, we looked at what the Marrow calls the law of works. This law of works is the focal point for what Covenant Theologians call the Covenant of Works – the arrangement between God and man (Adam) regarding mans responsibility of obedience to God’s Moral Will in order to have life and not death. This law was understood by man and man assented willingly unto his responsibility to his Creator –

“And the woman said unto the serpent, 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. (Genesis 3:8)”

The Fairness of the Covenant

That this covenant (or arrangement) between God and man was just, Fisher argues (by the mouth of Evangelista) that the man “being God’s creature, by the law of creation he owed all obedience and subjection to God his Creator.” Thomas Boston footnotes Fishers argument this way:

God having given man a being after his own image, a glorious excellency, it was his natural duty to make suitable returns thereof unto the Giver, in a way of duty, being and acting for him; even as the waters, which originally are from the sea, do in brooks and rivers return to the sea again. Man, being of God as his first cause, behoved to be to him as his chief and ultimate end, (Rom 11:36).

The Moral Law

A major point of Fisher’s argument and the very key to understanding the Covenant of Works is to understand the argument that Adam was not merely bound to the one legal precept of not eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but was created subject to the Moral Law of the Universe, which law God created just as assuredly as he created all the laws of physics. In order to persuade that man was created in such a way that he was bound to perfectly fulfill every moral obligation, Fisher makes the following arguments:

  1. Man was created in the image of God
  2. This image is marred by the fall of man
  3. This image is restored in the renewed man (Col 3:10)
  4. This image includes righteousness and Holiness (Eph 4:24)
  5. Righteousness and Holiness is what the law describes (Rom 7:12)

In other words, God created a moral order or a moral law in his universe and created man in harmony with that righteous standard. It is this very standard of Holiness that is demanded by God’s justice; it is this standard that is lost in fallen man; it is this standard that is accredited to man in justification; and it is this standard that is worked into man in sanctification. That man must be obedient to this perfect standard in order to stand before God is the substance of the Covenant of Works and it makes clear what Jesus meant when he said, ‘For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matt 5:20).

The Fall and Rebellion of Man

When Adam fell, he did not only fall for himself, but he fell for all mankind and all mankind fell in him. See what the Apostle Paul says:

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.  (Rom 5:12,18-19)

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21-22)

The Result of the Fall

The Baptist catechism asks the question, “Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?”. The answer: “The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.” Nomista asks a similar question of Evangelista in the Marrow:

Nom Then, sir, it seemeth by Adam’s breach of covenant, all mankind were brought into a miserable condition?

Evan All mankind by the fall of Adam received a twofold damage: First, A deprivation of all original goodness. Secondly, An habitual natural proneness to all kind of wickedness. For the image of God, after which they were created, was forthwith blotted out; and in place of wisdom, righteousness, and true holiness, came blindness, uncleanness, falsehood, and injustice. The very truth is, our whole nature was thereby corrupted, defiled, deformed, depraved, infected, made infirm, frail, malignant, full of venom, contrary to God; yea, enemies and rebels unto him. So that, says Luther, this is the title we have received from Adam: in this one thing we may glory, and in nothing else at all; namely, that every infant that is born into this world, is wholly in the power of sin, death, Satan, hell, and everlasting damnation.

We cannot but look at the world around us and KNOW in our heart that this statement is correct. Everything God has made is beautiful and perfect and good; and as for man, the Apostle Paul answers for man when he wrote:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:  There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.  Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:  Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:  Their feet are swift to shed blood:  Destruction and misery are in their ways:  And the way of peace have they not known:  There is no fear of God before their eyes.  (Rom 3:10-19)

Answering an Objection of God’s Justice

Perhaps a person who has great confidence in man may object to God’s wrath abiding upon man for such a small sin as eating a forbidden peace of fruit. Nomista, who has confidence in the will-power of man, wonders this aloud to Evangelista:

Nom But, sir, methinks it is a strange thing that so small an offence, as eating of the forbidden fruit seems to be, should plunge the whole of mankind into such a gulf of misery.

Evangelista Though at first glance it seems to be a small offence, yet, if we look more wistfully upon the matter it will appear to be an exceeding great offence; for thereby intolerable injury was done unto God; as, first, His dominion and authority in his holy command was violated. Secondly, His justice, truth, and power, in his most righteous threatenings, were despised. Thirdly, His most pure and perfect image, wherein man was created in righteousness and true holiness, was utterly defaced. Fourthly, His glory, which, by an active service, the creature should have brought to him, was lost and despoiled…

Tune in next time…

In the next installment of the series, we’ll look at man’s abiding obligation to holiness and his remaining under the curse of the fall. Can man reform himself by legal obedience to regain what he has lost or is he eternally doomed?

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