Dabney on the graciousness of the Covenant of Works

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crhoades

Puritan Board Graduate
Beginning to study covenant theology in my pastoral internship's covering of the WCF. We're in the process of studying the CoW. Ran across this from Dabney. Would this be considered FVish or Shepherdish? Isn't inserting even a modicum of grace in the CoW what is getting people up in arms? Keep in mind I haven't read Shepherd, FV, NPP so I'm not completely sure what all of the issues are. Read Bavinck last night and he also said that Adam's obedience would not be meritorious. I'm scratching my head at this point. Help would be appreciated. Thanks!

From Dabney's Systematic Theology

God´s act in entering into a covenant with Adam, if it be substantiated, will be found to be one of pure grace and condescension. He might justly have held him always under his natural relationship; and Adam´s obedience, however long continued, would not have brought God into his debt for the future. Thus, his holiness being mutable, his blessedness would always have hung in suspense. God, therefore, moved by pure grace, condescended to establish a covenant with His holy creature, in virtue of which a temporary obedience might be graciously accepted as a ground for God´s communicating Himself to him, and assuring him ever after of holiness, happiness, and communion with God. Here then is the point of osculation between the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace, the law and the Gospel. Both offer a plan of free justification, by which a righteousness should be accepted, in covenant, to acquire for the creature more than he could strictly claim of God; and thus gain him everlasting life. In the covenant of grace, all is "ordained in the hand of a mediator," because man´s sin had else excluded him from access to God´s holiness. In the covenant of works, no mediator was required, because man was innocent, and God´s purity did not forbid him to condescend to him. But in both, there was free grace; in both a justification unto life; in both, a gracious bestowal of more than man had earned.

[Edited on 8-7-2006 by crhoades]
 

Dan....

Puritan Board Sophomore
This is good stuff.

Basically this sounds like a very clear explanation of what the WCF summarizes in Chapter 7, Section 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.
 

Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
While I go not have direct quotations at the moment, Dabney's statements are not necessarily unusual among historic orthodox, Reformed treatises. That is because of the difference between claiming that 1) the very act of God establishing a covenant with Adam at all was in itself a gracious act, and being in such a covenant with promises at all was a privilege that Adam did not earn, versus claiming that 2) once the covenant was graciously established, its very terms and stipulations for life were themselves gracious as well. Since the doctrines of original sin, Christ's righteousness, and His legal fulfilling of the law on our bahalf are contingent on the nature of the terms or stipulations of the established covenant, it is grace within that realm (2) that must be guarded against; but the very act of establishment being seen as gracious (1) poses no such threat to those key doctrines.

Even so, perhaps somewhat due to the erring claims of many people holding to #2, some may have disagreements over possible ambiguities the word "grace" might hold, even in reference to #1. WCF 7.1 refers to it by the term "voluntary condescension."
 

VanVos

Puritan Board Sophomore
:ditto:

I agree with Me Died Blue, that the Covenant of works it's self is meritorious, hence Christ's (the last Adam) Ascension, to the right hand of the father, being a matter of strict justice.

As to whether God condescension in the making of the Covenant of Work is grace, I wouldn't say it is in the biblical covenantal use of the term, but rather it was a display/act of God's goodness, which in a broad sense can be described as gracious.



[Edited on 8-7-2006 by VanVos]
 

crhoades

Puritan Board Graduate
Still thinking through this and reading... Regarding the meritoriousness issue. Rowland Ward in an article posted on the fpcjackson website: here says:

The Adamic covenant and merit
It is common to describe Christ, the last Adam, as 'meriting' our salvation by his obedience. The parallel suggests to some that Adam would likewise have merited eternal life if he had obeyed in the covenant. Indeed, it might be said that if Adam could not have merited eternal life then neither could Jesus, in which event the foundation of salvation is destroyed.

The term 'merit' as used in Christian theology has more than one meaning. In particular, it can mean 'gain' or it can mean 'earn' (see this distinction well made in the 17th century by Turretin, Institutes, Vol 2, p.710). All human words can be misapplied, but the term 'covenant of works' in useful as conveying the correct idea that life was promised to obedience and therefore it was a just reward even if, with the generality of Reformed theologians, we think it a reward not deserved in justice as if man could demand over against God (cf. Luke 17:8), but a reward by reason of God's covenant promise.

Pretty well the entire Reformed tradition avoided a merit-as-earning construction for Adam. Thus Robert Rollock, one of the early covenant theologians writes:
"It is a question here, whether in the first creation, good works in the covenant of works, were required of man as meritorious for the promised life? I answer, not so. But they were due in the creation as pledges of thankfulness in man to his creator, for that excellent work of his creation, and to glorify God his creator." [Treatise on Effectual Calling, London, 1597]

Later on he (Ward) says:
He seems to suppose that such a covenant would involve eternal life as something earned by man (p. 48), whereas, as noted above, virtually the entire covenant tradition, from Robert Rollock in 1597 to Herman Bavinck in 1897, stresses the reward was a gift not earned as wages but promised by covenant. [The great Charles Hodge is the lone, relatively undogmatic, advocate of the merit-as-earning viewpoint as far as I can see (Systematic Theology, 3:364-5).]

Again, I haven't read the tradition of cov. theo. to be able to know if this is legit or not. But I don't think Berkhof and Bavinck holds that the CoW was meritorious. Again, it might be a semantic or a definitional issue.

[Edited on 8-7-2006 by crhoades]
 

R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
This passage from Dabney has to be read VERY CAREFULLY. He doesn't call the covenant of works "gracious." Rather, he said that God was gracious in making the covenant of works.

God´s act in entering into a covenant with Adam, if it be substantiated, will be found to be one of pure grace and condescension.

Calling the making of the covenant of works a gracious act is less problematic than making the covenant of works gracious and making the covenant of grace legal with respect to justification.

Dabney clearly equated "grace" with "voluntary condescension." I think Dabney's equation of the two is gratuitous, but many Reformed folk have spoken as he did.

He might justly have held him always under his natural relationship; and Adam´s obedience, however long continued, would not have brought God into his debt for the future.

Here Dabney appealed to the disproportionality inherent in divine-human relations. Man, as such, apart from the covenant of works initiated by God, could never merit anything before God.

The question is this: did God freely establish a covenant in which Adam could be said, under the terms of the covenant, to have "merited" something?

Thus, his holiness being mutable, his blessedness would always have hung in suspense. God, therefore, moved by pure grace, condescended to establish a covenant with His holy creature, in virtue of which a temporary obedience might be graciously accepted as a ground for God´s communicating Himself to him, and assuring him ever after of holiness, happiness, and communion with God.

Yes, Dabney says "graciously accepted," because in this construct, Dabney has identified "grace" with "voluntary condescension."

According to Dabney, Adam still had to meet the terms of the covenant of works. A gracious covenant of works would mean that he did not have to meet the terms of the covenant. If you miss your mortgage payment and if the bank doesn't foreclose, that's grace.

Here then is the point of osculation between the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace, the law and the Gospel. Both offer a plan of free justification, by which a righteousness should be accepted, in covenant, to acquire for the creature more than he could strictly claim of God; and thus gain him everlasting life.

NB also that he equated the covenant of works with "law" and the covenant of grace with "gospel." This way of speaking would seem to protect him from being identified with the Shepherdite/FV moralists who repudiate any such distinction or identification.

In the covenant of grace, all is "ordained in the hand of a mediator," because man´s sin had else excluded him from access to God´s holiness. In the covenant of works, no mediator was required, because man was innocent, and God´s purity did not forbid him to condescend to him. But in both, there was free grace; in both a justification unto life; in both, a gracious bestowal of more than man had earned.

This is pretty standard stuff. Ursinus said similar things in 1561. The law of the covenant of works contained promises to be met by Adam by perfect and perpetual obedience to the covenant of works/nature.

The covenant of grace contains promises to sinners, the legal conditions having been met by the Mediator. The ground is the same, but the performer changes. The Second Adam obeyed for his people and the instrument by which we benefit from the obedience of the Second Adam is faith defined as receiving and resting.

No FV stuff in Dabney. Beside, he was a Southern Presbyterian and we all know from the very learned FV advocates that So Presbyterianism is the source of all that's evil in the Reformed world, Steve Wilkins and other FV types excepted.

rsc
 

VanVos

Puritan Board Sophomore
Here's article on the history of this issue:

http://www.upper-register.com/ct_gospel/several_quick.html

A veritable All-Star team of Reformed heroes have subscribed to one or both of those points, asserting or implying grace in the covenant of works: William Ames [1], the Westminster Divines [2], Francis Turretin [3], John Owen [4], Thomas Boston [5], R. L. Dabney [6], John Murray [7], Louis Berkhof [8], Anthony Hoekema [9]. Only a handful -- e.g., Herman Witsius, Johannes Heidegger, Charles Hodge, Meredith G. Kline -- hold out against this tide. And Witsius does so after much agonizing. He knows what he's up against

My recommendation is go with the latter.
 

crhoades

Puritan Board Graduate
Originally posted by VanVos
Here's article on the history of this issue:

http://www.upper-register.com/ct_gospel/several_quick.html

A veritable All-Star team of Reformed heroes have subscribed to one or both of those points, asserting or implying grace in the covenant of works: William Ames [1], the Westminster Divines [2], Francis Turretin [3], John Owen [4], Thomas Boston [5], R. L. Dabney [6], John Murray [7], Louis Berkhof [8], Anthony Hoekema [9]. Only a handful -- e.g., Herman Witsius, Johannes Heidegger, Charles Hodge, Meredith G. Kline -- hold out against this tide. And Witsius does so after much agonizing. He knows what he's up against

My recommendation is go with the latter.

Following the link and reading the quotes gave me the following quote from Berkhof that I was referring to.
Louis Berkhof: "Even if [Adam] did all that was required of him, he would still have to say, I am but an unprofitable servant, for I have merely done that which it was my duty to do. Under this purely natural relationship man could not have merited anything "¦ In addition to the natural relationship He, by a positive enactment, graciously established a covenant relationship." Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 215.

You hit the nail on the head for me at this point. Leaving Shepherd, NPP, and FV writers out of this and wanting to hug the Standards and the reformed heavyweights still runs into differences. In most doctrines there is more uniformity. Can't really count noses on all points of covenant theology.

I do agree with Dr. Clark that it is 2 different things regarding God condescending to Adam and offering eternal life in the CoW and the stipulation being gracious. I hold that it was obedience. I'm still working through the meritoriousness of it and all of the nuances that it entails-especially with the lists on both sides of the issue.

Thanks for the link!
 

brymaes

Puritan Board Sophomore
Originally posted by Dan....
This is good stuff.

Basically this sounds like a very clear explanation of what the WCF summarizes in Chapter 7, Section 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.

Agreed. This is nothing that we don't already confess, whether we are Reformed or Particular Baptist. The language of the WCF and LCF are identical.

God is just to require our obedience simply because we are His creatures. He is gracious to set up an economy whereby man may recieve reward for his works.
 

WrittenFromUtopia

Puritan Board Graduate
Dabney's view has nothing to do with FV/NPP ism. The FV/NPP camp usually don't even factor in a CoW, or more than one covenant, actually. They just have a view of this one gracious covenant, that is basically an orgy between the Trinity or something like that. I dunno, I think you have to smoke pot before you can "get it" because it is poetic or typological or something. *shrug*
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Originally posted by VanVos
Here's article on the history of this issue:

http://www.upper-register.com/ct_gospel/several_quick.html

A veritable All-Star team of Reformed heroes have subscribed to one or both of those points, asserting or implying grace in the covenant of works: William Ames [1], the Westminster Divines [2], Francis Turretin [3], John Owen [4], Thomas Boston [5], R. L. Dabney [6], John Murray [7], Louis Berkhof [8], Anthony Hoekema [9]. Only a handful -- e.g., Herman Witsius, Johannes Heidegger, Charles Hodge, Meredith G. Kline -- hold out against this tide. And Witsius does so after much agonizing. He knows what he's up against

My recommendation is go with the latter.

It all depends on how you define "grace." If "unmerited favour," then the reformed tradition is correct. If "ill-merited favour," then Kline is correct. The problem for Kline and his followers is that God's chesed is operable in preservation; see especially Ps. 136.

All reformed theologians acknowledge that the covenant of works made with Adam is not expressly stated in Scripture. "Works" and "grace" are theological categories devised to show how man stands related to blessedness both before and after the fall. Hence it is somewhat presumptuous to argue an exegetical idea of "merit" in the "works" of Adam, where "works" is nowhere mentioned by the text.

In the Westminster Standards, man was created under law, and owed obedience to God regardless. The covenant of works was made with Adam as a special act of providence. So it is incorrect to speak of man being created under the covenant of works. It follows that the blessedness that was promised to man was not "owing" to his obedience except by virtue of the fact that God "promised" to "reward" man. There was nothing in the nature of the "work" which could "earn" blessedness for man. Hence the covenant "disposition" was of grace, though the "dispensation" was of works.
 

VanVos

Puritan Board Sophomore
Sorry got to disagree. Man as the Image of God by necessity was under a covenant of works because he was to reflect God's nature and office i.e. just as God enter the eternal Sabbath rest after he finished His work of creation, so Adam was to finish his *work* of taking dominion in order to enter the *same* Sabbath rest. See how Adam's work was to be analogous to God's, hence the Covenant of *Works*. I'm going to go with Kline on this one.

VanVos
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Gen. 2:16, 17 is a post-creation special act of providence. All divines acknowledge that the threatening/condition is the substance of the covenant of works. The command to not eat of the tree was a positive command. By definition a positive command is something superadded. The Westminster Standards provide a biblically balanced presentation. One MUST distinguish between "law" and "the law as a covenant of works."
 

VanVos

Puritan Board Sophomore
I see what your saying and I don't believe I'm denying that. But the command not to eat of the tree of Knowledge (a sanction of the Covenant of Works) is part of the external make-up for Man as the Image of God. I agree that the command came after Adam was created but it was inextricably linked to Man being in the Image of God. Do you follow my thinking here?

VanVos
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I can comprehend what you are saying, but I cannot accept it as valid. Gen. 2:16, 17 must itself be the covenant administration, and not simply the sanctions of the covenant. It is only in that "probation" that the principle of federal representation can be brought in. If it were otherwise, all men would still be under the probation of the covenant of works in virtue of the fact that they are made in the image of God, which would be Pelagian.

Here also I would add, that grace must be in the disposition of the covenant of works, because if a man is righteous he is righteous for himself. The idea of a "living being" obtaining a reward of righteousness for his posterity is above and beyond what is "owing" to individual "works."
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I don't have anything to contribute to the discussion. I just thought this phrase from Dabney needed to be highlighted, as we should definitely use it more often in daily life:
point of osculation
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
For instance:

Wedding Ceremony:
Minister: "We have now arrived at the point of osculation."

Interrogatory of offspring after date:
Father: "Did you reach the point of osculation?"
 

Dan....

Puritan Board Sophomore
Okay; so I had to go look it up in the dictionary (When I read it in the quote above, I just brushed by it scratching my head, like I do most big words that I don't know. I just figure, it wasn't important.)

So here it is:

http://dictionary.reference.com/
os·cu·la·tion ( P ) Pronunciation Key (sky-lshn)
n.

1. a. The act of kissing.
1. b. A kiss.
2. Mathematics. A contact, as between two curves or surfaces, at three or more common points.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I think he was thinking in terms of the Biblical phrase: righteousness and peace have arrived at the point of osculation.
 

VanVos

Puritan Board Sophomore
Originally posted by armourbearer
I can comprehend what you are saying, but I cannot accept it as valid. Gen. 2:16, 17 must itself be the covenant administration, and not simply the sanctions of the covenant. It is only in that "probation" that the principle of federal representation can be brought in. If it were otherwise, all men would still be under the probation of the covenant of works in virtue of the fact that they are made in the image of God, which would be Pelagian.

Here also I would add, that grace must be in the disposition of the covenant of works, because if a man is righteous he is righteous for himself. The idea of a "living being" obtaining a reward of righteousness for his posterity is above and beyond what is "owing" to individual "works."

I too understand your perspective but I don't see how my position gives me the above mentioned theological dilema. Adam is still the federal head of fallen humanity, therefore the Image of God is fully maintained. The Covenant of Works, although broken, is still upheld over all of fallen humanity.

Reason I stress this position is to preserve an acute Law - Gospel distinction, making Grace in Christ clearly legiable.

VanVos
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Originally posted by VanVos
I too understand your perspective but I don't see how my position gives me the above mentioned theological dilema. Adam is still the federal head of fallen humanity, therefore the Image of God is fully maintained. The Covenant of Works, although broken, is still upheld over all of fallen humanity.

Please allow me to try and put it another way. Only one sin of Adam's is imputed to his posterity for condemnation: it is the sin against the positive precept to not eat of the tree. The federal principle was therefore to be found in the superadded positive precept, not in the imago Dei, or his constitution under moral law. By the imago Dei he was certainly qualified to act as federal head, and the positive precept served as a test of Adam's fidelity to moral law; but he represented his posterity only in relation to the positive precept. If he stood or fell in relation to this, his posterity stood or fell in relation to blessedness.

Now, if the probation is placed in something that is common to all men, then the natural conclusion is the Pelagian one, that the probation itself is common to all men. Hence, if it is to be found in the imago Dei, the natural conclusion is that every image of God is under probation. If it is to be found in being under moral law, then all under moral law are under probation. It is only in something distinctive for Adam, like the positive precept, that the principle of representation can be brought in.

Now it might be argued that all men are fallen from the imago Dei, hence they have already failed the test. But this is mediate imputation, not the immediate imputation of Rom. 5:12-19. It is only by acknowledging the covenant administration to consist in a post creation special act of providence peculiar to Adam that the distinctives of Reformed hamartiology are preserved.

Reason I stress this position is to preserve an acute Law - Gospel distinction, making Grace in Christ clearly legiable.

But it is quite unnecessary because the law/grace distinction is indicative of fallen man. Works-probation was appropriate for an unfallen creature which had the capacity to reflect the Creator's glory, and hence grace (promise) could consist with works. Where man is incapable of obtaining life by works then grace must be set over against it.

[Edited on 8-9-2006 by armourbearer]
 

VanVos

Puritan Board Sophomore
Originally posted by armourbearer
Please allow me to try and put it another way. Only one sin of Adam's is imputed to his posterity for condemnation: it is the sin against the positive precept to not eat of the tree. The federal principle was therefore to be found in the superadded positive precept, not in the imago Dei, or his constitutution under moral law. By the imago Dei he was certainly qualified to act as federal head, and the positive precept served as a test of Adam's fidelity to moral law; but he represented his posterity only in relation to the positive precept. If he stood or fall in relation to this, his posterity stood or fall in relation to blessedness.

Okay I think I´m discerning your underpinning presupposition of the moral "law" (which is a systematic term not exegetical one) I would rather speak of God immutable moral will enshrined by different Covenant administrations, but maybe that's just semantics. See here http://www.upper-register.com/mosaic_law/three_enshrinements.doc

Secondly we are defining Imago Dei a little differently, where you seem to restrict it to man as a created constitution/integrity with it's special capabilities, I see it as that, plus being under a Covenant of Works, which considers man's eschatological purpose i.e. Glorification.

Originally posted by armourbearerNow, if the probation is placed in something that is common to all men, then the natural conclusion is the Pelagian one, that the probation itself is common to all men. Hence, if it is to be found in the imago Dei, the natural conclusion is that every image of God is under probation. If it is to be found in being under moral law, then all under moral law are under probation. It is only in something distinctive for Adam, like the positive precept, that the principle of representation can be brought in.

Again you missed what I said about man as the Image of God. The Covenant of Works was broken in Adam as the federal representative over all the humanity, therefore the probation period is retracted, but man's eschatological purpose as the Image of God is still maintained because Covenant still stands over all of fallen humanity. See here I'm speaking as Image of God as whole/race and not just as pertains to an individual.

Originally posted by armourbearer
Now it might be argued that all men are fallen from the imago Dei, hence they have already failed the test. But this is mediate imputation, not the immediate imputation of Rom. 5:12-19. It is only by acknowledging the covenant administration to consist in a post creation special act of providence peculiar to Adam that the distinctives of Reformed hamartiology are preserved.
I agree that imputation is immediate and I don't believe my position denies that. And again I'm not denying that the Covenant was made after the creation of Adam.

But it is quite unnecessary because the law/grace distinction is indicative of fallen man. Works-probation was appropriate for an unfallen creature which had the capacity to reflect the Creator's glory, and hence grace (promise) could consist with works. Where man is incapable of obtaining life by works then grace must be set over against it.

When I made my comments on the Law - Gospel distinction, I was speaking from a post-lapsarian perspective, in which humanity finds it's self. But the assumed role of Christ as the Last Adam was not of Grace but of works Rom 5:19. His reward was a matter of strict justice, just as would have been with the First Adam.

Listen, I appreciate your comments, and I believe we agree on the essentials here, i.e. Covenant of Works, Covenant grace, the immediate imputation of Adam's guilt etc and I believe we're both attempting to derive conclusions that will best preserve these truths.

VanVos

[Edited on 8-9-2006 by VanVos]
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Originally posted by VanVos
I agree that imputation is immediate and I don't believe my position denies that. And again I'm not denying that the Covenant was made after the creation of Adam.

I must have misunderstood you above when you said: "Sorry got to disagree. Man as the Image of God by necessity was under a covenant of works because he was to reflect God's nature and office." All that I have said has been for the purpose of justifying the traditional position, that the covenant of works is post-creation. If we agree there then I apologise for needlessly pushing the point. If this is the case, then the traditional view of promise (eschatology) being added to obligation (creation) is valid.

I can see that you have adopted Kline's "image-bearer" functional concept, which also serves a purpose in a suzerainty-vassal economy. But as far as I can see that also entails a creation covenant, not the traditional post creation covenant. I am holding to the traditional ontological imago Dei, in the broader sense of a reasonable soul and the narrower sense of knowledge, righteousness and holiness.

If we agree that Gen. 2:16, 17 is the point of probation, and the covenant of works was a post-creation promise on God's part, then I don't see any material doctrinal difference in our views.

Blessings!
 
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