Covenant of Works or Covenant of Creation?

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Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Source: April 2011 Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, written by Nathan J. Langerak, entitled, A Critique of the Covenant of Works in Contemporary Controversy. URL: http://www.prca.org/prtj/apr2011.pdf

In the item referenced above, the author argues the Reformed tradition has wrongly classified the Covenant of Creation as the Covenant of Works.

According to the author, the Covenant of Creation

- was not a pact, but instead was a command to Adam; not a condition, that Adam must fulfill;

- was a sovereign act of God to establish a relationship (He is their God, we are His people) of friendship, fellowship, and love between God and man;

- was given with the creation of Adam—not added at some point after Adam’s creation;

- Adam was created in the covenant not for the covenant; and

- there are two parts in every covenant—loving and serving the Creator as a son to his Father—obedience, that is, man’s work is important.

An important aspect of the Covenant of Creation, according to Pastor Langerak, is that misunderstandings of the work of Christ are avoided. Drawing upon Romans 5:18, the parallel between Adam and Christ is to be properly understood that Adam was the covenant head of the entire human race, while Christ was the covenant head of the elect human race.

More observations from the article in question follow.

In the covenant of creation, Adam possessed the ability to keep the moral law of God, which was known to Adam by nature of his original state. Adam had the ability, the power, bestowed upon him in the creation, without any assistance by supernatural grace to keep the moral law.

According to the Pastor Langerak, the idea that heavenly life was promised by the a Covenant of Works has no warrant from Scripture. The Covenant of Works view, per the traditional view the author challenges, is that the covenant was probationary, relying upon Genesis 2:16-17, that the Covenant of Works was a means to an end—a higher state of existence than Adam’s original creation. The Covenant of Works was a conditional pact, by which, had Adam obeyed, he would have merited eternal heavenly life. According to the author’s view of Reformed tradition, “the Covenant of Works was not inherent in the creation of Adam, but the covenant was added to Adam’s paradisiacal life with the probationary command.”

Pastor Langerak takes great issue with the issue of merit that he believes underlies the Covenant of Works, ultimately because this concept within the Reformed tradition makes God to be a debtor to Man. Langerak writes,
“Witsius defended the concept of meritum ex pacto... By obeying perfectly, or by remaining in perfection, man had a right to reward by virtue of the covenant. The idea behind merititum ex pacto is that, while God is not and never can be a debtor to man, nevertheless, He allowed Himself to be a debtor to man by making a covenant with Adam. The Reformed insisted that by virtue of the pact God condescended to Adam and made it possible for Adam to merit with God.”


Yet, when we read the WCF we find that according to the Covenant of Works, rather it is Christ’s merit, Christ’s work (active and passive, preceptive and penal, perfect and personal, obedience and satisfaction) that fulfills the conditions of the Covenant of Works. In a PCA report concerning the Federal Vision, (cited by Langerak in the paper) we also read:
“…denial of the category of merit, or the substitution of the idea of maturity in its place, neither enriches our covenant theology nor makes God more gracious in his dealings with us, but instead compromises the Cross’s vindication of the righteousness of God, and diminishes the believer’s apprehension of the security that flows from the costly justice of free grace.”


Langerak also quotes from the Formula Consensus Helvetica, noting the traditional Reformed view:
“Canon IX: Wherefore we can not assent to the opinion of those who deny that a reward of heavenly bliss was proffered to Adam on condition of obedience to God, and 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….”


I am interested in understanding exactly who were “those who deny that a reward of heavenly bliss was proffered to Adam on condition of obedience to God” at the time of the writing of the Formula (1675) as it seems Langerak is making the same objections.

The author maintains that Christ’s meriting eternal life is not due to the promise of the law, but due to Christ’s person. Adam was earthy, “mere” man. Christ was not “mere” man. Per Langerak, “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.” (emphasis mine)

Langerak argues that any merit assigned to Adam dilutes the merit of Christ, making Christ’s work a mere remedy. The author’s argument for this view is under a notion of merit Adam could have merited not only more easily, but also for a greater number than those for whom Christ merited:
“The work of Jesus Christ is really 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 through the long, deep way of sin and grace, through His incarnation, lifelong obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection. 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.” (emphasis mine)

When reading the author’s complaints about merit I could not help from wondering if he fully appreciated the Reformed view, which holds that Adams works would not have merited anything before God because of their intrinsic worth, since, after all, Adam owed God obedience anyway. Yet, the author argues that by mere obedience, Adam would have merited more than Christ. I wonder if Pastor Langerak understands that the condign merit he is unwittingly appealing to, is rejected within the Reformed tradition?

Clearly Pastor Langerak rejects the pactum merit Adam would have possessed had Adam obeyed, as the author argues against any form of merit according to agreement between God and man.

AMR
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Clearly Pastor Langerak rejects the pactum merit Adam would have possessed had Adam obeyed, as the author argues against any form of merit according to agreement between God and man.

The merit consists in the unfallen Adam keeping the condition not to eat of the Tree.
Keeping the condition involved no effort on Adam's part - all he had to do was continue living in original righteousness, which was his reasonable service of God. The condition was negative; he didn't have to do something but just avoid doing something he didn't need to do. Adam and the rest of mankind would have had nothing to boast of - not that they would have wanted to boast, being sinless.

But we must not get into a position where a clear distinction is not made between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace which is where some of these guys seem to go with some of this.

I don't mind calling the Covenant of Works, "the Covenant of Works", because Man in Adam had to fulfil the condition, rather than someone else, i.e. God, on his behalf as in the CoG.

If Adam had fulfiled the condition as he should have done, he'd have had nothing to boast about because God in His bountiful goodness had made the CoW so easy, and all that Adam was doing in the CoW was fulfilling a condition by carrying out his reasonable service to God his Father.

The CoW was "additional" to Adam's original righteousness and created state because it was a means by which Man could be confirmed in original righteousness and it is possible to conceive of other ways God could have provided for this. See Dabney's "Systematic Theology" on this.

Adam and Mankind would have been confirmed in original righteousness as soon as he had fulfilled the probation, which may have been as soon as Eve got pregnant. But Man collectively still had to build the City of God on Earth by carrying out the Creation/Cultural Mandate, subduing the Earth and developing it to God's glory.

E.g.
The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.

We have reference to undeveloped gold and precious stones in Genesis, but reference to the City of God made of gold and precious stones in Revelation.

It was unfallen Man's task to develop human culture to the nth degree to God's glory.

Pastor Langerak takes great issue with the issue of merit that he believes underlies the Covenant of Works, ultimately because this concept within the Reformed tradition makes God to be a debtor to Man. Langerak writes,

God is a "debtor" to men and angels in the sense that He owes them righteousness or, if you want, being a righteous God He will always treat His creatures righteously because that is His nature. If he is not a righteous God, He is a capricious God, and could have sent the unfallen Adam and Eve, and the unfallen angels to Hell forever.

- was not a pact, but instead was a command to Adam; not a condition, that Adam must fulfill;

A command is a condtion to be fulfilled, and interestingly, the one about the Tree was additional to the moral law written on Adam's heart.

- was a sovereign act of God to establish a relationship (He is their God, we are His people) of friendship, fellowship, and love between God and man;

A relationship of friendship, fellowship and love was already there. What was lacking was the testing of that love, on Man's part, and its confirmation forever. This was to be additionally provided by the CoW.

Love for God in heart, mind, soul and strength was the essence of Adam's obedience, but can love be love if it is incapable of being lost or is not free?

The Lord in His bountiful goodness (grace) provided a way whereby this could be dealt with at the outset of Mankind's history, rather than e.g. each child having to undergo probation individually.

The original creation and Man's body was corruptible i.e. capable of corruption. At some point after the probation and the fulfillment of the Creation Mandate, God would have transformed it.
 
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Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
In the covenant of creation, Adam possessed the ability to keep the moral law of God, which was known to Adam by nature of his original state. Adam had the ability, the power, bestowed upon him in the creation, without any assistance by supernatural grace to keep the moral law.

We must acknowledge this man's idea runs against the current of reformed history.

Language like this begins the difficulty, what does he mean by "without any assistance by supernatural grace." The difficulties compound after that.
 
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