Classical Covenant Theology Covenant of Works
By Edited by R. Scott ClarkMartin Luther (1483-1546). Before AdamÂ’s fall it was not necessary for him to have Christ, because he was righteous and without sin, just as the angels have no need of Christ. If Adam had not fallen, it would not have been necessary for Christ to become our Redeemer. ...The argument is true that eternal life is in the given to him who keeps the law without Christ, because whoever keeps the law is righteous. Adam would have entered into the kingdom of heaven without Christ, if he had not fallen. ...The conclusion is that Adam alone kept the commandments of God before the Fall, but after the Fall and no one has truly been found who has fulfilled the law (Disputatio de iustificatione, 1536; Luther's Works, 26.185, 187)
John Calvin (1509-64). We must, therefore, look deeper than sensual intemperance. The prohibition to touch the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil was a trial of obedience (obedientiae examen), that Adam, by observing it, might prove his willing submission to the command of God (Institutes, 2.1.4)
John Calvin. The promise, which gave him hope of eternal life as long as he should eat of the tree of life (arbore vitae), and, on the other hand, the fearful denunciation of death the moment he should taste of the Tree of Knowledge of of good and evil, were meant to test and exercise his faith (Institutes, 2.1.4).
John Calvin. There is no obscurity in the words, "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (Institutes, 2.1.6).
Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 14: The Creation and Fall of Man, And His Incapacity to Perform What is Truly Good. We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after his own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will agreeably to the will of God. But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin and consequently to death and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life; having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death. And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he has lost all his gifts which he had received from God, and retained only small remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse; for all the light which is in us is changed unto darkness, as the Scriptures teach us, saying: The light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not apprehended it; where St. John calls men darkness.
Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83) What does the divine law teach? The sort of covenant which God began with man, in creation; by which man should have carried himself in serving God; and what God would require from him after beginning with him a new covenant of grace; that is, how and for what [end] man was created by God; and to what state he might be restored; and by which covenant one who has been reconciled to God ought to arrange his life (Larger Catechism  Q. 10)
Heidelberg Catechism (1563) Q. 6: Did God create man thus wicked and perverse? A: No, but God created man good and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness, to praise and glorify Him.
Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 7: From where then comes this depraved nature of man? A: From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise whereby our nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin (Heidelberg Catechism, 1563).
Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 9: Does not God then do injustice to man by requiring of him in His Law that which he cannot perform? A: No, for God so made man that he could perform it, but man, through the instigation of the devil, by willful disobedience deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts (Heidelberg Catechism, 1563).
Zacharias Ursinus. What is this covenant? A covenant in general is a mutual contract, or agreement between two parties, in which the one party binds itself to the other to accomplish something upon certain conditions, giving or receiving something, which is accompanied with certain outward signs and symbols, for the purpose of ratifying in the most solemn manner the contract entered into, and for the sake of confirming it, that the engagement may be kept inviolate (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, 97).
Caspar Olevian (1536-87). This obedience of the Son was superior to all the justice of the Law. For Adam also, if he willed, could have remained in the righteousness of the Law. And to the degree that the curse was owed for every sin of the elect, to the same degree he had to fulfill all righteousness without any complaint, not even all the Angels were able to do this. Therefore, this obedience of the Son was not only regarding the righteousness of the Law, such as Adam received in creation, and such as the Law required of him, but also it exceeded the righteousness of all the Angels (Ad Galatas Notae, 57; Geneva, 1578).
Caspar Olevian. At the beginning of the human race that old serpent led humanity away from the word of the law, and thus from the covenant of creation by a false interpretation....The summary of this law shining forth in the image of God was that he love the Lord his God with all his heart...and as a testimony of this love refrain from eating from the one tree (De substantia, 2.27; Geneva, 1585).
Heidelberg Catechism Q. 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?
Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment-seat of God, must be perfect throughout and wholly conformable to the divine law;1 but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
Robert Rollock (c.1555-99). The covenant of God...is twofold; the first is the covenant of works; the second is the covenant of grace (Select Works 1.33-34)
Robert Rollock. Man, after the fall, abides under the covenant of works; and to this day, life is promised him under condition of works done by strength and nature. But if he will not do so well, death and the everlasting curse of God is denounced against him, so long as he is without Christ and without the gospel. And being freed from the covenant of works...he is admitted to the covenant of grace.... Christ, therefore, our Mediator, subjected himself to the covenant of works, and unto the law for our sake, and did both fulfill the condition of the covenant of works in his holy and good life...and also did undergo that curse with which man was threatened in the covenant of works, if that condition of good and holy works were not kept...Wherefore we see Christ in two respects, to wit, in doing and suffering, subject to the covenant of works, and in both respects he has most perfectly fulfilled it, and that for our sake whose Mediator he is become (Select Works, 1.52).
Canons of Dort (1619) 3/4.1 Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright, all his affections pure, and the whole man was holy. But, revolting from God by the instigation of the devil and by his own free will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and an in the place thereof became involved in blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment; became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.
Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629). I. God made a double covenant with man, the one of works and the other of grace; the former before, the latter after the fall. II. The covenant of works was confirmed by a double sacrament, to wit, the Tree of Life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil both being planted in the midst of paradise. III. They had a double use. 1. That man’s obedience might be tried, by using of the one, and abstaining from the other. 2. That the Tree of Life might ratify eternal happiness to those that should obey, but the Tree of Knowledge should signify to the disobedient, the loss of the greatest happiness and the possession of the greatest mercy. IV. Therefore the Tree of Life was so called, not from any innate faculty it had to give life, but from a sacramental signification. V. Likewise the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, had this denomination from signifying the chief good and evil and from the event. VI. The happiness of man being yet in his integrity, consisted chiefly in the image of God. XIV. Man even in respect of his body was immortal, but not simply, as though his body being composed of the elements could not be resolved into its principles, but by Divine Covenant; not as thought it could not die, but because it had a possibility not to die (posse non peccare). (Compendium of Christian Theology, 1626).
John Preston (1587-1628). It is said, "the promise is made to the Seed," yet the promise is made to us, and yet again the covenant is made with Abraham: How can all these stand together? Answer: The promises that are made to the Seed, that is to Christ himself are these: You shall sit on that throne; you shall be a prince of peace, and the government shall be upon your shoulders; likewise, you shall be a prophet to my people....These are the promises that are made to the Seed. The promises that are made to us, though they be of the same covenant, nevertheless differ in this respect: the active part is committed to the Messiah, to the Seed himself, but the passive part consists of the promises made to us.... So the promise is made to us.....The meaning is that they are derivative promises. They primary and original promises were made to Jesus Christ (The New Covenant, 1639; 374-75).
John Ball (1585-1640). The Covenant of Works, wherein God covenanted with man to give him eternal life upon condition of perfect obedience in his own person. The Covenant of Grace, which God made with man promising eternal life upon condition of believing...This Covenant [of works] God made with man without a Mediator for there needed no no middle person to bring man into favor and friendship with God, because man did bear the image of God, and had not offended: nor to procure acceptance to man's service because it was pure and spotless. God did love man being made after his Image and promised to accept of his obedience performed freely, willingly, entirely, according to his Commandment. (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London, 1645, 8,9).
James Ussher (1581-1656). Man being at the beginning created according to the image of God...had the covenant of law ingrafted in his heart; whereby God did promise unto him everlasting life, upon the condition that he performed entire and perfect obedience unto his Commandments (Irish Articles, 1615; Art. 11).
Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). Chapter 7: Of God's Covenant with Man. 7:1. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant. 7:2. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.
Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 20. What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created? A. The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth; putting the creatures under his dominion, and ordaining marriage for his help; affording him communion with himself; instituting the sabbath; entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.
Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 21. A. Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, through the temptation of Satan, transgressed the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit; and thereby fell from the estate of innocency wherein they were created.
Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 22. Did all mankind fall in that first transgression? A. The covenant being made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in that first transgression.
The Sum of Saving Knowledge (1647). 1b) God originally made everything from nothing, perfect. He made our first parents, Adam and Eve, the root of mankind, both upright and able to keep the law written in their hearts. This law they were naturally bound to obey upon penalty of death. God was not bound to reward their service, till he entered into a covenant or contract with them, and their posterity in them. He promised to give them eternal life, upon condition of perfect personal obedience. If they failed they would die. This is the covenant of works.
Johannes Cloppenburg (1592-1652). Here there arises before us the twofold diatheke or dispensation of the new covenant (covenant of grace) of which Christ speaks in Luke 22:29. 1) The one which Father covenantally ordains to the guarantor, 2) The one in which the Son as the Father's guarantor ordains the promise of life and heavenly glory for our sake. As for the first arrangement, the covenant is said to be previously ratified by God in him, Gal. 3:17. Here the full covenant concept remains, namely a two-sided agreement of mutual trust. As for the second arrangement, the covenant is called a testament established for us by the dying Testator, Heb. 9:14-17 (Opera Omnia 1.503).
Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675). Canon VII: As all his works were known unto God from eternity, (Acts 15:18), so in time, according to his infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, he made man, the glory and end of his works, in his own image, and, therefore, upright, wise, and just. Having created man in this manner, he put him under the Covenant of Works, and in this Covenant freely promised him communion with God, favor and life, if indeed he acted in obedience to his will. Canon VIII: Moreover that promise connected to the Covenant of Works was not a continuation only of earthly life and happiness but the possession especially of eternal and celestial life, a life namely, of both body and soul in heaven, if indeed man ran the course of perfect obedience, with unspeakable joy in communion with God. For not only did the Tree of Life prefigured this very thing unto Adam, but the power of the law, which, being fulfilled by Christ, who went under it in our place, awards to us nothing other than celestial life in Christ who kept the same righteousness of the law. The power of the law also threatens man with both temporal and eternal death. Canon IX: Wherefore we can not agree with the opinion of those who deny that a reward of heavenly bliss was offered to Adam on condition of obedience to God. We also do not admit that the promise of the Covenant of Works was any thing more than a promise of perpetual life abounding in every kind of good that can be suited to the body and soul of man in a state of perfect nature, and the enjoyment thereof in an earthly Paradise. For this also is contrary to the sound sense of the Divine Word, and weakens the power of the law considered in itself. Canon X: God entered into the Covenant of Works not only with Adam for himself, but also, in him as the head and root with the whole human race. Man would, by virtue of the blessing of the nature derived from Adam, inherit also the same perfection, provided he continued in it. So Adam by his sorrowful fall sinned and lost the benefits promised in the Covenant not only for himself, but also for the whole human race that would be born by the flesh. We hold, therefore, that the sin of Adam is imputed by the mysterious and just judgment of God to all his posterity. For the Apostle testifies that "in Adam all sinned, by one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Rom 5:12,19) and "in Adam all die" (I Cor 15:21-22). But there appears no way in which hereditary corruption could fall, as a spiritual death, upon the whole human race by the just judgment of God, unless some sin of that race preceded, incurring the penalty of that death. For God, the most supreme Judge of all the earth, punishes none but the guilty. Canon XV: But by the obedience of his death Christ, in place of the elect, so satisfied God the Father, that in the estimate of his vicarious righteousness and of that obedience, all of that which he rendered to the law, as its just servant, during his entire life whether by doing or by suffering, ought to be called obedience. For Christ's life, according to the Apostle's testimony (Phil 1:8), was nothing but submission, humiliation and a continuous emptying of self, descending step by step to the lowest extreme even to the point of death on the Cross; and the Spirit of God plainly declares that Christ in our stead satisfied the law and divine justice by His most, holy life, and makes that ransom with which God has redeemed us to consist not in His sufferings only, but in his whole life conformed to the law. The Spirit, however, ascribes our redemption to the death, or the blood, of Christ, in no other sense than that it was consummated by sufferings; and from that last definitive and no blest act derives a name indeed, but not in such a way as to separate the life preceding from his death.
Herman Witsius (1636-1708).. In the covenant of works there was no mediator: in that of grace, there is the mediator, Christ Jesus....In the covenant of works, the condition of perfect obedience was required, to be performed by man himself, who had consented to it. In that of grace, the same condition is proposed, as to be, or as already performed by a mediator. And this substitution of the person, consists the principal and essential difference of the covenants (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, 1677, 2 vol;1.49).
John Owen (1616-83). Q. 3. Wherefore did God make man? A.For his own glory in his servicef and obedience. Q. 4. Was man able to yield the service and worship that God required of him? A. Yea, to the uttermost, being created upright in the image of God, in purity, innocence, righteousness, and holiness. Q. 5. What was the rule whereby man was at first to be directed in his obedience? A. The moral or eternal law of God, implanted in his nature and written in his heart by creation, being the tenor of the covenant between him, sacramentally typified by the tree of knowledge good and evil. Q. 6. Do we stand in the same covenant still, and have we the same power to yield obedience unto God? A. No; the covenant was broken by the sin of Adam, with whom it was made, our nature corrupted, and all power to do good utterly lost. (The Greater Catechism (1645), ch.6).
Francis Turretin (1623-87). II. Although properly and strictly speaking, there can be no covenant between God and man because there is no room for a contract (which takes place between equals), nor any obligation of God, but a spontaneous communication of himself (as was proved in Part 1, Topic VIII, Question 3), still God by singular grace willed to enter into a covenant with man, in the sense of what lawyers call a"quasi-contract." (Institutes of Elenctic Theology [1679-85] ed. J. T. Dennison [Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1994]; 12.2.2 ).
Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711). Acquaintance with this covenant is of the greatest importance, for whoever errs here or denies the existence of the covenant of works will not understand the covenant of grace, and will readily err concerning the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. Such a person will very readily deny that Christ by His active obedience has merited a right to eternal life for the elect. This is to be observed with several parties who, because they err concerning the covenant of grace, also deny the covenant of works. Conversely, whoever denies the covenant of works, must rightly be suspected to be in error concerning the covenant of grace as well (The Christian's Reasonable Service, 1700; 1.355).
Charles Hodge (1797-1878). God having created man after his own image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience, forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil upon the pain of death. According to this statement, God entered into a covenant with Adam. (2.) The promise annexed to that covenant was life. (3.) The condition was perfect obedience. (4.) Its penalty was death. 1. God entered into Covenant with Adam. This statement does not rest upon any express declaration of the Scriptures. It is, however, a concise and correct mode of asserting a plain Scriptural fact, namely, that God made to Adam a promise suspended upon a condition, and attached to disobedience a certain penalty. This is what in Scriptural language is meant by a covenant, and this is all that is meant by the term as here used. Although the word covenant is not used in Genesis, and does not elsewhere, in any clear passage, occur in reference to the transaction there recorded, yet inasmuch as the plan of salvation is constantly represented as a New Covenant, new, not merely in antithesis to that made at Sinai, but new in reference to all legal covenants whatever, it is plain that the Bible does represent the arrangement made with Adam as a truly federal transaction. The Scriptures know nothing of any other than two methods of attaining eternal life: the one that which demands perfect obedience, and the other that which demands faith. If the latter is called a covenant, the former is declared to be of the same nature. It is of great importance that the Scriptural form of presenting truth should be retained. Rationalism was introduced into the Church under the guise of a philosophical statement of the truths of the Bible free from the mere outward form in which the sacred writers, trained in Judaism, had presented them. On this ground the federal system, as it was called, was discarded. On the same ground the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of Christ were pronounced a cumbrous and unsatisfactory form under which to set forth his work as our Redeemer. And then the sacrificial character of his death, and all idea of atonement were rejected as mere Jewish drapery. Thus, by the theory of accommodation, every distinctive doctrine of the Scriptures was set aside, and Christianity reduced to Deism. It is, therefore, far more than a mere matter of method that is involved in adhering to the Scriptural form of presenting Scriptural truths. God then did enter into a covenant with Adam. That covenant is sometimes called a covenant of life, because life was promised as the reward of obedience. Sometimes it is called the covenant of works, because works were the condition on which that promise was suspended, and because it is thus distinguished from the new covenant which promises life on condition of faith. 2. The Promise. The reward promised to Adam on condition of his obedience, was life. (1.) This is involved in the threatening: `'In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." It is plain that this involved the assurance that he should not die, if he did not eat. (2.) This is confirmed by innumerable passages and by the general drift of Scripture, in which it is so plainly and so variously taught, that life was, by the ordinance of God, connected with obedience. `` This do and thou shalt live." "The man that doeth them shall live by them." This is the uniform mode in which the Bible speaks of that law or covenant under which man by the constitution of his nature and by the ordinance of God, was placed. (3.) As the Scriptures everywhere present God as a judge or moral ruler, it follows of necessity from that representation, that his rational creatures will be dealt with according to the principles of justice. If there be no transgression there will tee no punishment. And those who continue holy thereby continue in the favor and fellowship of him whose favour is life, and whose loving-kindness is better than life. (4.) And finally, holiness, or as the Apostle expresses it, to be spiritually minded, is life. There can therefore be no doubt, that had Adam continued in holiness, he would have enjoyed that life which flows from the favour of God. The life thus promised included the happy, holy, and immortal existence of the soul and body. This is plain. (1.) Because the life promised was that suited to the being to whom the promise was made. But the life suited to man as a moral and intelligent being, composed of soul and body, includes the happy, holy, and immortal existence of his whole nature. (2.) The life of which the Scriptures everywhere speak as connected with obedience, is that which, as just stated, flows from the favour and fellowship of God, and includes glory, honour, and immortality, as the Apostle teaches us in Romans ii. 7. (3.) The life secured by Christ for his people was the life forfeited by sin. But the life which the believer derives from Christ is spiritual and eternal life, the exaltation and complete blessedness of his whole nature, both soul and body. 3. Condition of the Covenant. The condition of the covenant made with Adam is said in the symbols of our church to be perfect obedience. That that statement is correct may be inferred (1.) From the nature of the case and from the general principles clearly revealed in the word of God. Such is the nature of God, and such the relation which He sustains to his moral creatures, that sin, the transgression of the divine law, must involve the destruction of the fellowship between man and his Creator, and the manifestation of the divine displeasure. The Apostle therefore says, that he who offends in one point, who breaks one precept of the law of God, is guilty of the whole. (2.) It is everywhere assumed in the Bible, that the condition of acceptance under the law is perfect obedience. "cursed is every one who continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." This is not a peculiarity of the Mosaic economy, but a declaration of a principle which applies to all divine laws. (3.) The whole argument of the Apostle in his epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, is founded on the assumption that the law demands perfect obedience. If that be not granted, his whole argument falls to the ground. The specific command to Adam not to eat of a certain tree, was therefore not the only command he was required to obey. It was given simply to be the outward and visible test to determine whether he was willing to obey God in all things. Created holy, with all his affections pure, there was the more reason that the test of his obedience should be an outward and positive command; something wrong simply because it was forbidden, and not evil in its own nature. It would thus be seen that Adam obeyed for the sake of obeying. His obedience was more directly to God, and not to his own reason. The question whether perpetual, as well as perfect obedience was the condition of the covenant made with Adam, is probably to be answered in the negative. It seems to be reasonable in itself and plainly implied in the Scriptures that all rational creatures have a definite period of probation. If faithful during that period they are confirmed in their integrity, and no longer exposed to the danger of apostasy. Thus we read of the angels who kept not their first estate, and of those who did. Those who remained faithful have continued in holiness and in the favour of God. It is therefore to be inferred that had Adam continued obedient during the period allotted to his probation, neither he nor any of his posterity would have been ever exposed to the danger of sinning. 6. Perpetuity of the Covenant of Works. If Adam acted pot only for himself but also for his posterity, that fact determines the question, Whether the covenant of works be still in force. In the obvious sense of the terms, to say that men are still under that covenant, is to say that they are still on probation; that the race did not fall when Adam fell. But if Adam acted as the head of the whole race, then all men stood their probation in him, and fell with him in his first transgression. The Scriptures, therefore, teach that we come into the world under condemnation. We are by nature, '. e., as we were born, the children of wrath. This fact is assumed in all the provisions of the gospel and in all the institutions of our religion. Children are required to be baptized for the remission of sin. But while the Pelagian doctrine is to be rejected, which teaches that each man comes into the world free from sin and free from condemnation, and stands his probation in his own person, it is nevertheless true that where there is no sin there is no condemnation. Hence our Lord said to the young man, " This do and thou shalt live." And hence the Apostle in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, says that God will reward every man according to his works. To those who are good, He will give eternal life; to those who are evil, indignation and wrath. This is only saying that the eternal principles of justice are still in force. If any man can present himself before the bar of God and prove that he is free from sin, either imputed or personal, either original or actual, he will not be condemned. But the fact is that the whole world lies in wickedness. Man is an apostate race. Men are all involved in the penal and natural consequences of Adam's transgression. They stood their probation in him, and do not stand each man for himself (Systematic Theology (1872-73) Vol. 2: Anthropology, Ch. 6).
Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). In the covenant of works and the covenant of grace [there is] but one highest ideal for man and that is eternal life. (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 4 vol. 1895-1901; II.526).
Herman Bavinck. The commandment given to Adam was essentially a covenant, because, like God's covenant with Israel, it was intended to grant eternal life to Adam in the way of obedience. (Herman Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II.526)
Herman Bavinck. Paul with his parallel between Adam and Christ gave rise to thinking of the status integritatis [state of integrity] as a covenant. In distinction from the foedus gratitae [covenant of grace], then, this was named the foedus naturae or operum [covenant of nature or works]. It was called the covenant of nature not as if it sprung, of itself and naturally, from God's nature or that of man. Rather, it was called that because the foundation on which it rested, that is, the moral law, was known by man in nature, and because it was established with man in his original state and could be kept by man with the capacities given to him by creation, without supernatural grace (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II. 528-29)
Herman Bavinck. Our confessional documents do not make mention of the covenant of works] in so many words. But it is already included materially in articles 14 and 15 of the Belgic Confession, where it is taught that through Adam's transgression of the commandment of life human nature in its entirety corrupted, in Sundays 3 and 4 of the Heidelberg Catechism, where man is said to be created in God's image so that he might live with God in eternal life, but is also called totally corrupt because of Adam's fall, and in the Canons of Dort 3:2, where it is said that the corruption of Adam is passed on to us "according to God's righteous judgment. (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II.529).
Herman Bavinck. But the doctrine of a covenant of works rests on a scriptural foundation and is of surpassing value. (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 529-30).
M. J. Bosma (1874-1912). Covenant of Works. What was the covenant of works? A covenant is an agreement. The covenant of works was an agreement between God and Adam, wherein God promised eternal life to Adam and all his posterity, upon condition of perfect obedience to the probationary command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God threatening that Adam would die in case he broke this command. The elements of this covenant therefore were: 1. A condition expressed: perfect obedience. 2. A promise implied: eternal life. 3. A penalty threatened: death. Adam stood in a two-fold relation towards God: as creature and as covenant head. Adam as a creature of God was naturally under obligation to love and serve his Maker, but to this natural relation of Creator and creature God added the covenant relation. As God's creature Adam had to obey his Maker individually for himself, without any regard to his descendants. As placed under the condition of the covenant of works by God he acted not alone for himself, but was the representative of the human race: if he was faithful to the trial command of God he would have secured eternal life for all his posterity, if he broke the trial command he would bring upon all his descendants the penalty: "in the day thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die." Adam was the covenant or federal head of the human race. The covenant of which Adam was the head is carted "covenant of works," because it was through work of obedience that he was to gain eternal life, in contrast to the covenant of grace, wherein eternal life is obtained as a free gift of God's grace. Why do we believe this doctrine of the covenant of works? 1. We must admit it is not systematically taught in Scripture as we have explained it above, nor does the name covenant of works occur in the Bible, yet we are justified and necessitated for a clear apprehension of Adam's original position and of his relation to us to use the term "covenant of works" and to give to it the meaning above described, since all the elements of a covenant are distinctly found in the descriptions of Adam; all we do is to put the various elements in systematic order and call the whole "the covenant of works." We do not imply that an actual transaction of covenant making occurred between God and Adam as between two equals, for God and man are not equals, and so the original relation of Adam towards God was not a compact entered into by. mutual consideration, rather was the covenant of works a constitution imposed upon man by God, to which man readily consented, since he was in fullest harmony with God. The Sovereign 'Creator revealed the way to life eternal, to this way Adam consented,-thus the covenant was formed. 2. Hosea 6:7, (R. V.): "But they, like Adam. Have transgressed the covenant." Here it is plainly stated that Adam stood in covenant relation with God. 3. In Rom. 5:12-21, Paul draws a parallel between Adam and Christ. He declares that sin and death have come to us from Adam as righteousness and life come to us from Christ. Righteousness and life are secured to us without any action of our own, are imputed and given to us because of the work of Christ, so sin and death are our portion because of what Adam has done, without any conscious effort or work of our own, but as a result of covenant relationship. Adam and Christ are both covenant heads, their acts are imputed and charged to those they represent. To refuse to believe that Adam was our covenant head would require refusal to believe that Christ's merits could become ours." Rom. 5:12-21 ... 4. The fundamental principle of one representing many underlies all the religious institutions ever ordained by God for men. God always deals with us according to this principle. Why did God enter into covenant relation with Adam? Because he desired the free and voluntary love and service of man. Man, as the angels, was gifted with the power of reason and a free will, and nothing less than a willing service of man could satisfy God. This would be best understood and secured if man stood in covenant relation to God. All other creatures God controlled without any choice of their own, he influences their instinct or constrains them to involuntarily do his will. With them he makes no agreement, to them he makes no appeal and offers no reward. A covenant relation with the animal and vegetable world is impossible. But man, made in God's image, can understand God and agree or disagree to serve him. That man might show whether he would freely serve his Maker, God entered into a covenant with him, and tried him by the probationary command not to eat of the forbidden tree. The special command not to eat of the forbidden tree was given to be the outward and visible test to determine whether Adam was willing to obey God in all things. The eating of the tree was not wrong in its own nature, but was wrong because God had forbidden it. By leaving alone the fruit he would show that his whole life was subject to God, and his eating would prove that his heart was contrary to the holy will of his Creator. No fairer trial than the human race thus had in Adam can be conceived of, since he was created in full possession of all his faculties and in the image of God. What did the promise of eternal life include? It included the happy, holy and immortal existence of soul and body. Eternal life flows from the favor and fellowship of God, and includes glory, honor, and immortality; the exaltation and complete blessedness of both soul and body. Thus privileged with life Adam would have been prophet, priest and king on earth, and everything else would have been subdued unto him in the service of God. This blessed state will be the heritage of those saved by Christ, and they will never lose it, because they, for the merits of their Redeemer's sake, are kept by the power of God. Can we gain eternal life at present through the covenant of works? No, for we can never fulfill the condition of the covenant of works. If we could be born without sin and should never thereafter sin, we might gain eternal life as reward for obedience, but this is impossible. The penalty of the covenant of works rests upon all, for all are sinners. The covenant of works condemns us (Exposition of the Reformed Doctrine [Grand Rapids, 1907]).
G. Vos (1862-1949). According to the Reformed view the covenant of works is something more than the natural bond which exists between God and man. The Westminster Confession puts this in such a pointedly beautiful way (7.1) ...If we are not mistaken, the instinctive aversion which some have to the covenant of works springs from a lack of appreciation for this wonderful truth [i.e., God's voluntary condescension]. ("The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology," 1891, Selected Shorter Writings, 244).
Louis Berkhof (1873-1957). All the elements of covenant [of works] are indicated in Scripture, and if the elements are present, we are not only warranted but, in a systematic study of the doctrine, also in duty bound to relate them to one another, and to give the doctrine so construed an appropriate name (Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 213).
Louis Berkhof. There was [in the covenant of works] a promise of eternal life....Now it is perfectly true that no such promise is explicitly recorded, but it is clearly implied in the alternative of death as the result of disobedience (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 214).
Meredith G. Kline. The active obedience of Jesus is his fulfilling the demands of the covenant probation. By the passive obedience of his atoning sacrifice he secures for us the forgiveness of sins. But he does more than clear the slate and reinstate us in Adams original condition, still facing probation and able to fail. Jesus, the second Adam, accomplishes the probationary assignment of overcoming the devil, and by performing this one decisive act of righteousness he earns for us Gods promised reward. By this achievement of active obedience he merits for us a position beyond probation, secure forever in Gods love and the prospect of God's eternal home. This grand truth is a fruit of covenant theology. It grows out of the soil of the Reformed doctrine of federal representation, which is based on the biblical teaching about the two Adams whose responses under covenant probation are imputed to those they represent. Thus, God imputes to those whom Christ represents the righteousness of the victory of his active obedience in his probationary battle against Satan. Here was Machen's strong comfort in death. He knew that the meritorious work performed by his Savior had been reckoned to his account as if he had performed it. God must certainly bestow on him the glorious heavenly reward, for Jesus had earned it for him and God's name is just ("Covenant Theology Under Attack", 1994).
Edited by R. Scott Clark
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