Marrow of Modern Divinity – Covenant of Works, part 3


The Fall of Man – Recap

In the prior installments of this series on the Marrow of Modern Divinity, we looked at the testing of man under what theologians call the Covenant of Works. We’ve learned that the first man Adam was made the representative head of all the human race and that he was made Holy and conformable to all holiness and righteousness. Adam was also made mutable, meaning that he had free will and that his nature, unlike God’s nature, was subject to change. In fact, Adam chose to rebel against his Creator and in so doing he died a Spiritual death. Not only did he separate himself from his God, but he fundamentally changed his nature and standing before God. No longer was he Holy and Righteous, but he now became dead to all Spiritual light, separated from having a Holy communion with his Creator; he became the enemy of God and initiated a rebellion against God, not only for himself, but for all his descendants who he represented.

Can Man Be Recovered?

Now that Adam failed in keeping his part of this arrangement of life and peace, what is to become of him? Can the Covenant simply be discarded with and a new arrangement created as the naive dispensationalists believe? If in fact the Covenant cannot be discarded, cannot Adam simply obey it from this point on in order to inherit the blessings of obedience? CIf not Adam, what about Adam’s posterity? Can Adam and his posterity earn enough merit with God to overbalance the damage he has done, thereby wiping out the curse and earning his own salvation as the naive Romanists believe? The Marrow answers these questions in the last sections of chapter 1.

Abrogation of the Covenant? Righteousness No Longer Required?

Nomista, the legalists, who has great confidence in man and man’s ability to do for himself in order to merit favor with God, questions Evangelista regarding the lastingness of the Covenant. If in fact the covenant is broken, should not God simply throw it away and make a new arrangement with man – a new dispensation, or a new testing of obedience in order to merit salvation?

Evangelista answers this question by reminding Nomista that an agreement (or contract) is in force regardless of the ability of either party to deliver what he owes. If a debtor cannot pay his debt, is he thereby released from debt? If a criminal were to commit such a heinous crime that he were sentenced to 20 life-times in prison, should he be loosed from his sentence because it is more than he can pay?

No. The requirement for a just standing before God is Righteousness. It always has been and it always will be. In each economy of God’s unfolding drama of revelation, man has moral obligation of perfect, perpetual, and pristine obedience.

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. (Mat 5:20)

In fact, it is not the message of the gospel that righteousness is NOT required for salvation, but rather that THAT very righteousness is supplied by a substitute – the second Adam. We will discuss the second Adam in the next chapter.

Recovery of Man by Works Righteousness?

Can Adam’s Descendants Restore Themselves?

OK, so Adam failed in his requirement to be holy before God. But what about his descendants? Don’t we each have the power within us to live a perfect life?

According to the Word of God, the answer is NO!

  • All men are fallen in our father Adam – I Cor 15:22
  • Every man is born a sinner – Ps 51:5
  • This sin nature makes us unable to live righteously – Rom 6:20, 7:12
  • This darkness in us makes us unable to even grasp or accept any Spiritual truth whatsoever – John 3:3, 1 Cor 2:14, Eph 2:1-3

According to the Bible, in fact, the reason we sin is because we are born sinners. We are born the very enemies of God and without being reconciled to him, nothing we do pleases him. Because we are unclean, everything we do is unclean and cannot save.

Evangelista replied to Nomista this way: ‘Yea, indeed, it is impossible for any mere man in the time of this life to keep it perfectly; yea, though he be a regenerate man; for the law requireth of man that he “love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might”; and there is not the holiest man that lives, but he is flesh as well as spirit in all parts and faculties of his soul, and therefore cannot love the Lord perfectly. Yea, and the law forbiddeth all habitual concupiscence, not only saying, “thou shalt not consent to lust,” but, “thou shalt not lust”: it doth not only command the binding of lust, but forbids also the being of lust: and who in this case can say, “My heart is clean”?’

Is There a Works-Based Satisfaction for Sin?

As Nomista is a carnal and unregenerate man, he wonders why man cannot simply work to restore what he has lost with God. Much like modern Roman Catholics, Nomista is well-intentioned, but his doctrine smells of hell and Satan and has none the savour of Christ and his grace. Evangelista answers Nomista’s objection this way:

Evan Because his sin, in eating the forbidden fruit [Rom 5:15] was committed against an infinite and eternal God, and therefore merited an infinite and eternal satisfaction; which was to be either some temporal punishment, equivalent to eternal damnation, or eternal damnation itself. Now Adam was a finite creature, therefore, between finite and infinite there could be no proportion; so that it was impossible for Adam to have made satisfaction by any temporal punishment; and if he had undertaken to have satisfied by an eternal punishment, he should always have been satisfying, and never have satisfied, as is the case of the damned in hell.

Nom. And why was he unable to pay the debt of perfect and perpetual obedience for the time to come?

Evan. Because his former power to obey was by his fall utterly impaired; for thereby his understanding was both enfeebled and drowned in darkness; and his will was made perverse, and utterly deprived of all power to will well; and his affections were quite set out of order; and all things belonging to the blessed life of the soul were extinguished, both in him and us; so that he was become impotent, yea, dead, and therefore not able to stand in the lowest terms to perform the meanest condition. The very truth is, our father Adam falling from God, did, by his fall, so dash him and us all in pieces, that there was no whole part left, either in him or us, fit to ground such a covenant upon. And this the apostle witnesseth, both when he says, “We are of no strength”; and, “The law was made weak, because of the flesh,” (Rom 5:6, 8:3).

Next Time…

In the next installment (and final part regarding the Covenant between God and man), we will look at the necessary satisfaction demanded by Adam’s sin. Beyond that, we will begin to examine what the Marrow teaches regarding God’s plan for redemption of fallen mankind.

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