Denying the Covenant of Works

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Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Trying to work through this. How does overemphasizing the CoW lead to antinomianism? Could you connect the dots for me?

In addition to Andrew’s comments, I’ll add my own two cents. The problem in the Klinean formulation is not necessarily overemphasizing the covenant of works but redefining the covenant of works. It redefines the moral law as THE covenant of works. The moral law is fundamentally part of the creation covenant, and actually woven into the fabric of man's nature in creation, so that his natural drive even before the Fall is not just to be righteous (historic Reformed position) but also to earn salvation by merit (Klinean position). It's a very subtle twist but has important implications. So, when Christ fulfills this covenant of works, he also fulfills the moral law in creation. This moral law/covenant of works was also "republished" in the Mosaic law, and so with Adam/Moses fulfilled by Christ, the moral law/creation covenant is fulfilled completely. In Christ, the Christian is under a new law as a new creation. That is where the potential for antinomianism can creep in. Under this conception, those in Christ live under a different moral standard than Adam/Moses, usually called by proponents "the law of Christ" or "love" (usually defined as New Testament or new covenant laws or imperatives) in contrast to the inferior moral law/mosaic law/covenant of works which focused on "merit".

This is a different conception from the historic Confessional position, which maintained that the moral law remains the same standard of righteousness for both covenants. The moral law was the standard man was created to live by, and only became a means for earning eternal life AFTER God condescended to make the covenant of works with him. In the covenant of grace, you obey the same moral law (not a new one) out of love and gratitude to the Father as his redeemed child. Same moral law and standard of righteousness but different covenant relationship to God. And it's also the same standard to which man is renewed and restored in Christ. So, there's no difference between "love" and "law" in the Confessional position. Both are defined by the same moral law.

Back to mono-covenantalismm, it's possible to fall into antinomianism too. You could argue that Christ fulfilled the conditions of the covenant, therefore we have no obligations to fulfill it ourselves. But it's very hard to be a consistent antinomian if you are going to take the whole Bible seriously. Even those who would advocate a formal antinomianism (moral law is no longer binding) usually advocate some sort of obedience to a new covenant law. And as Sinclair Ferguson has pointed out so well in "The Whole Christ" (highly recommended!) antinomianism is fundamentally controlled by a legalistic conception of God in it's overreaction to legalism. And usually antinomianism is unstable, and will inadvertently create some practical form of legalism (i.e. conformity to it’s scheme of antinomian faith or pursuit of confirmatory experiences from God) in order to know they are true Christians. Another helpful study on the various forms of antinomianism is “Antinomianism, Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest?” by Mark Jones.

Again, my two cents...
 
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Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
In addition to Andrew’s comments, I’ll add my own two cents. The problem in the Klinean formulation is not necessarily overemphasizing the covenant of works but redefining the covenant of works. It redefines the moral law as THE covenant of works. The moral law is fundamentally part of the creation covenant, and actually woven into the fabric of man's nature in creation, so that his natural drive even before the Fall is not just to be righteous (historic Reformed position) but also to earn salvation by merit (Klinean position). It's a very subtle twist but has important implications. So, when Christ fulfills this covenant of works, he also fulfills the moral law in creation. This moral law/covenant of works was also "republished" in the Mosaic law, and so with Adam/Moses fulfilled by Christ, the moral law/creation covenant is fulfilled completely. In Christ, the Christian is under a new law as a new creation. That is where the potential for antinomianism can creep in. Under this conception, those in Christ live under a different moral standard than Adam/Moses, usually called by proponents "the law of Christ" or "love" (usually defined as New Testament or new covenant laws or imperatives) in contrast to the inferior moral law/mosaic law/covenant of works which focused on "merit".

This is a different conception from the historic Confessional position, which maintained that the moral law remains the same standard of righteousness for both covenants. The moral law was the standard man was created to live by, and only became a means for earning eternal life AFTER God condescended to make the covenant of works with him. In the covenant of grace, you obey the same moral law (not a new one) out of love and gratitude to the Father as his redeemed child. Same moral law and standard of righteousness but different covenant relationship to God. And it's also the same standard to which man is renewed and restored in Christ. So, there's no difference between "love" and "law" in the Confessional position. Both are defined by the same moral law.

Back to mono-covenantalismm, it's possible to fall into antinomianism too. You could argue that Christ fulfilled the conditions of the covenant, therefore we have no obligations to fulfill it ourselves. But it's very hard to be a consistent antinomian if you are going to take the whole Bible seriously. Even those who would advocate a formal antinomianism (moral law is no longer binding) usually advocate some sort of obedience to a new covenant law. And as Sinclair Ferguson has pointed out so well in "The Whole Christ" (highly recommended!) antinomianism is fundamentally controlled by a legalistic conception of God in it's overreaction to legalism. And usually antinomianism is unstable, and will inadvertently create some practical form of legalism (i.e. conformity to it’s scheme of antinomian faith or pursuit of confirmatory experiences from God) in order to know they are true Christians. Another helpful study on the various forms of antinomianism is “Antinomianism, Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest?” by Mark Jones.

Again, my two cents...

i emojied. But Amen!
 

Tidwex

Puritan Board Freshman
If one denies the COW and sees only a mono-covenant structure, what is/are the possible trajectories? I readily see that imputation(vital to the Gospel) is lost- Romans 5:19.That is pretty clear. But can it lead to either antinomianism or neonomianism? It seems that it would conflate the Works/Grace principle which could lead to either one (anti or neo) depending on one's reading of certain verses. In other words I hear the FV talking about 'covenantal faithfulness' securing their justification, and then I listen to Ligon Duncan and he mentions that denying the COW leads to cheap grace. Anyone willing to elaborate on the trajectory of the denial of the COW?
A book I am reading at the moment is called "The Marrow of Modern Divinity", which addresses these issues. If you deny the covenant of works between Adam and God, you misunderstand the Gospel: We have our sin debt paid by Christ, but we also gain eternal life through Christ keeping the CoW. It's not merely enough to be forgiven in my opinion, that just makes you innocent, back to where Adam stood before the fall (correct me if I'm wrong about that, I'm not a theologian but I dabble a bit here and there and would like guidance). We need a representative who can accomplish what Adam failed to do. He "restores" us to innocence and earns eternal life through his sinless life.
 

Goodcheer68

Puritan Board Sophomore
If you deny the covenant of works between Adam and God, you misunderstand the Gospel:
Right, one of the things you lose is imputation which is vital for the Gospel. If no first Adam as a federal head we lose our grounding for a second Adam (Romans 5). I’m also trying to learn where else it takes you and it seems to also lead to either anti or neonomianism. Which I suspected but wanted clarification.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
I am not going to make myself popular by writing this statement, nonetheless, I think that it needs to be said. The wholesale rejection of a pedagogical republication of the covenant of works during the Mosaic economy (which is emphatically not the view that the Mosaic administration was a covenant of works simpliciter) - probably adopted in reaction to Klinean excesses - has pulled down one of the main bulwarks against mono-covenantalism. Pulling down this stronghold against mono-covenantalism was also likely a major factor in facilitating the rise of the Federal Vision and other forms of neonomianism. It is not enough just to condemn the FV or mono-covenantalism themselves, but we need to get to the root of the problem. To paraphrase Tony Blair (!!!), we must be "tough on the Federal Vision; tough on the causes of the Federal Vision."

In order to completely deny republication, you have to do a lot of exegetical dancing to get around the obvious meaning of many biblical texts. You also have to studiously ignore the vast array of Reformed divines who adhered to some form of republication. If you can engage in that much exegetical and historical evasion to deny the plain teaching of both scripture and historical Reformed theology, it is not much of a stretch to proceed to an outright denial of the covenant of works, as many of the major proof-texts for the covenant of works are explained away (such as Leviticus 18, Romans 10, Galatians 3 and 4).

R. Scott Clark has a growing number of posts on the subject of both the covenant of works and republication; likewise, I am gathering up quotes on the covenant of works, though I have tons more in the pipeline.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
I am not going to make myself popular by writing this statement, nonetheless, I think that it needs to be said. The wholesale rejection of a pedagogical republication of the covenant of works during the Mosaic economy (which is emphatically not the view that the Mosaic administration was a covenant of works simpliciter) - probably adopted in reaction to Klinean excesses - has pulled down one of the main bulwarks against mono-covenantalism. Pulling down this stronghold against mono-covenantalism was also likely a major factor in facilitating the rise of the Federal Vision and other forms of neonomianism. It is not enough just to condemn the FV or mono-covenantalism themselves, but we need to get to the root of the problem. To paraphrase Tony Blair (!!!), we must be "tough on the Federal Vision; tough on the causes of the Federal Vision."

In order to completely deny republication, you have to do a lot of exegetical dancing to get around the obvious meaning of many biblical texts. You also have to studiously ignore the vast array of Reformed divines who adhered to some form of republication. If you can engage in that much exegetical and historical evasion to deny the plain teaching of both scripture and historical Reformed theology, it is not much of a stretch to proceed to an outright denial of the covenant of works, as many of the major proof-texts for the covenant of works are explained away (such as Leviticus 18, Romans 10, Galatians 3 and 4).

R. Scott Clark has a growing number of posts on the subject of both the covenant of works and republication; likewise, I am gathering up quotes on the covenant of works, though I have tons more in the pipeline.

Perhaps to simplify what I am trying to say here: If you deny a republication of the covenant of works, it becomes much easier to argue that it was never published in the first place.
 
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Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Perhaps to simplify what I am trying to say here: If you deny a republication of the covenant of works, it becomes much easier to argue that it was never published in the first place.
I would agree with that too. Confession 19.2 for example says that the same moral law as a rule of righteousness was given again at Sinai. And we could even say that the legal obligations and penalties of the covenant of works were restated or "republished" for instructional purposes only (i.e. the first use of the law, to teach them their inability to keep the law and drive them to Christ, Gal 3:24). This is basically the position of Thomas Boston in his notes on the Marrow. He advocates a "subservient" covenant view but stays within the correct definitions of the moral law, gospel, covenant of works, and covenant of grace. It's the Klinean redefinitions of these terms and that version of republication that won't work (in my opinion).
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Junior
I would agree with that too. Confession 19.2 for example says that the same moral law as a rule of righteousness was given again at Sinai. And we could even say that the legal obligations and penalties of the covenant of works were restated or "republished" for instructional purposes only (i.e. the first use of the law, to teach them their inability to keep the law and drive them to Christ, Gal 3:24). This is basically the position of Thomas Boston in his notes on the Marrow. He advocates a "subservient" covenant view but stays within the correct definitions of the moral law, gospel, covenant of works, and covenant of grace. It's the Klinean redefinitions of these terms and that version of republication that won't work (in my opinion).
Fascinating stuff, so what exactly is so offensive about the concept of republication? What was the purpose and intent at Sinai? If the republication was for the light to be shined on the 1st use of the law what is the problem in that? I believe the event at Sinai was a show of God’s holiness and righteousness. Not that there was not an element of mercy as well. Any restraint, even partially, of judgment and punishment, is an act of mercy obviously.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Fascinating stuff, so what exactly is so offensive about the concept of republication? What was the purpose and intent at Sinai? If the republication was for the light to be shined on the 1st use of the law what is the problem in that? I believe the event at Sinai was a show of God’s holiness and righteousness. Not that there was not an element of mercy as well. Any restraint, even partially, of judgment and punishment, is an act of mercy obviously.
I really want to stay away from this subject and the thread; I've said my piece elsewhere, been highly critical of MGK, and later sympathetic to his historical position and the fight he was called to even while still unsympathetic to certain positions he taught; and I am pleased with the OPC report on republication that clarifies (in my mind) what is and is not properly confessional. I think MGK is a writer many people would benefit from reading and seriously engaging, very influential and had many keen insights, just not always reliable.

If a republication-position leads to the conclusion that Israel took possession of Canaan in a state whereby the equivalent of "congruent merit" (a Romanist term) kept them (or could keep them) landed and free instead of kicked out and re-enslaved--this clearly is sacrificing crucial insights of our theology to salvage a "real" works-covenant scheme.

A pedagogical republication does not require that there be at least a notional keeping of the law that is sufficiently good, to qualify Israel so that she might stay put. That standard was perfection, and it was never lowered, and there was no grading on a curve. Israel failed in the shadow of Sinai, they failed in the wilderness, they failed as soon as they entered the land and began to conquer it. They failed further in establishing control of the territory by the first chapter of Judges. They failed all the way until exile. And still failed that, and their return.

So... either there was some "passing standard" God accepted less than perfection, or else grace was the true operating principle. But there's still a place for the CoW to be set forth, including promises extracted from the nation to obey on which statements God suspends the blessing of settlement. It's just that immediately it becomes apparent that if grace is not "deeper" than the legal arrangement, this failure will be worse than in Eden.

So, the required obedience is still required; the promissory oath is still exacting; but performance perfection is hypothetical. "If Israel could keep this law, then on that basis she would remain in the land indefinitely." She cannot, and she does not keep it, and yet she remains in the land: hence grace, hence Abraham before Moses and not supplanted by Moses. She cannot, she does not, and so she is removed from the land when God's patience is exhausted, and not because she ever stayed a day/week/month/year, on the basis of sufficient merit of her own.

The nation is brought back to the land, not because she is repentant (as in the law's statements about restoration)--Daniel is clear in his prayer, ch9, that Judah has not done what is necessary in exile to warrant a return after 70yrs--but because of grace yet again. The republication effects what it is supposed to, namely it drives the remnant to throw themselves time and again, in every generation starting with the first, on the mercy and grace of God. The Law is never the actual basis of effecting anything in Israel's history directly, as if unmediated through grace's prism.
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Junior
I have a somewhat limited understanding but I definitely see Gods people in non-conditional (obviously) covenant of grace and when they offended God or went astray it was cause they didn’t recognize and worship Him as they should, a response to His grace, mercy and dominion over all things.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Stephen, yes, I would say that merging the CoW and the CoG results in neonomianism, if not outright legalism. There are various positions, and I think Richard Baxter falls in that continuum.

On the issue of republication, I agree with Fred Greco. He told me something a long time ago, and which has resonated with me more and more over time: the CoW is always republished all the way through Scripture. So also is the CoW always still in place for those who are not members of the CoG. It is not obsolete. I think that is a point often missing in the discussion. We tend to fall into the trap of thinking that because Christians are no longer subject to the CoW that therefore no one is. Everyone not under the federal headship of the Last Adam is still under the federal headship of the first Adam, and therefore still under the sanctions of that covenant.

I think a limitation of the republication to the Mosaic economy is barking up the wrong tree. There are certainly things in the Mosaic covenant that are meant to remind us of the CoW, not least "Do this and live," as Paul understands that phrase. But to make this point is simply to reaffirm the law-gospel distinction. And I agree with Bruce's points about how Israel got the land and retained the land. Furthermore, statements that echo the CoW occur throughout Scripture, and in various covenantal situations.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
On the issue of republication, I agree with Fred Greco. He told me something a long time ago, and which has resonated with me more and more over time: the CoW is always republished all the way through Scripture. So also is the CoW always still in place for those who are not members of the CoG.

I agree with this statement of the question, but the argument that those who hold to a pedagogical republication under Moses (not Klinean republication) would make is the prominence that the republication of the covenant of works was given in the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace was much greater than in previous administrations or at present. In other words, there was a superadded republication under Moses in order to serve as a schoolmaster to drive the Israelites to Christ and show the futility of seeking salvation on account of legal observance.

Now that the Mosaic economy of the evangelical covenant has been superseded, all that is left of it is the republished covenant of works. Hence, those who wish to return to the bondage of Moses are reverting to the covenant of works and rejecting the covenant of grace. I do not really see how we can do justice to Galatians 4 and other passages without holding to this position.
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Junior
sorry, I meant at Sinai, specifically, and OT in a general sense, to add proper context to my statement... obviously I affirm individual salvation via the covenant of grace occurs no differently in the NT up to our time.
I have a somewhat limited understanding but I definitely see Gods people in non-conditional (obviously) covenant of grace and when they offended God or went astray it was cause they didn’t recognize and worship Him as they should, a response to His grace, mercy and dominion over all things.
 
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A.Joseph

Puritan Board Junior
Stephen, yes, I would say that merging the CoW and the CoG results in neonomianism, if not outright legalism. There are various positions, and I think Richard Baxter falls in that continuum.

On the issue of republication, I agree with Fred Greco. He told me something a long time ago, and which has resonated with me more and more over time: the CoW is always republished all the way through Scripture. So also is the CoW always still in place for those who are not members of the CoG. It is not obsolete. I think that is a point often missing in the discussion. We tend to fall into the trap of thinking that because Christians are no longer subject to the CoW that therefore no one is. Everyone not under the federal headship of the Last Adam is still under the federal headship of the first Adam, and therefore still under the sanctions of that covenant.

I think a limitation of the republication to the Mosaic economy is barking up the wrong tree. There are certainly things in the Mosaic covenant that are meant to remind us of the CoW, not least "Do this and live," as Paul understands that phrase. But to make this point is simply to reaffirm the law-gospel distinction. And I agree with Bruce's points about how Israel got the land and retained the land. Furthermore, statements that echo the CoW occur throughout Scripture, and in various covenantal situations.
I’ve also heard the point that 2K theology reflects a CoG v GoW dichotomy/distinction in which Gods law remains supreme but it’s a delight/affirmation for those under the one and condemnation/burden for those under the other. I actually heard this in the context of a Timothy Brindle track.
 

TooManySystematics

Puritan Board Freshman
I think that it also needs to be asked what a person is actually doing when they deny the CoW.

- What are the nature of their objections, is it from a misunderstanding of what the doctrine actually asserts?
- Do they still believe in a prelapsarian covenant? If so, what is the relationship between the prelapsarian covenant and the post-lapsarian covenant?
- Do they just not like the name "works"? Would they be satisfied with the substance of the doctrine if they merely called it something else such as "the covenant of life?"

Just my :2cents:. I'm wary of making the term "covenant of works", as a term, a shibboleth when they might not actually reject the substance of the doctrine.
 

Goodcheer68

Puritan Board Sophomore
What are the nature of their objections, is it from a misunderstanding of what the doctrine actually asserts?
- Do they still believe in a prelapsarian covenant? If so, what is the relationship between the prelapsarian covenant and the post-lapsarian covenant?
- Do they just not like the name "works"? Would they be satisfied with the substance of the doctrine if they merely called it something else such as "the covenant of life?"

Just my :2cents:. I'm wary of making the term "covenant of works", as a term, a shibboleth when they might not actually reject the substance of the doctrine.

If someone wants to call the CoW by another name Cov of Creation, life, nature, etc. that is perfectly legitimate. But the question assumed that those that reject the CoW understand what the CoW entails. So I’m asking particularly about mono-covenantalist and not thinking about people like O Palmer Robertson who prefers the term Cov of Creation over CoW. Hope that clears things up.
 

mvdm

Puritan Board Junior
Those logically consistent with Kline's views will be antinomians though. A perfect example of one who is logically consistent is Lee Irons.

Another example would be Tullian Tchividjian, who credited his understanding of covenant/ law/gospel from Klinean Mike Horton, and whose theology was vigorously defended by Klinean Scott Clark.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Fascinating stuff, so what exactly is so offensive about the concept of republication? What was the purpose and intent at Sinai? If the republication was for the light to be shined on the 1st use of the law what is the problem in that? I believe the event at Sinai was a show of God’s holiness and righteousness. Not that there was not an element of mercy as well. Any restraint, even partially, of judgment and punishment, is an act of mercy obviously.

My short answer: I agree with everything Bruce and Lane said above.

My own take: The Klinean republication scheme is more than a scheme using the first use of the law (where that IS the main point under historic Reformed schemes of republication). For Kline, Israel in the Promise Land is a reenactment of Adam in the Garden, with Israel’s land inheritance really dependent upon their “sincere” obedience.

Though, there certainly are thematic overlaps with Eden, it’s very clear from Sinai onward that Israel only received, kept, lost, and returned to the land by grace, not by obedience. The Promise Land under Moses was more appropriately a type of the new creation received by grace, not a new covenant of works with the real possibility of keeping the land by obedience (like Eden).

Moses told them up front in Deuteronomy 30 that they would fail and go into exile, and that God would graciously restore them. The history, theology, and purpose of the Mosaic administration needs to be read in light of that prophecy of Moses himself promising that something new was coming. There’s no real possibility of obtaining the land by works when God tells you up front it was all of grace. It was all an elaborate tutor to teach Israel they could not obey the law on their own and needed the grace of God in the promised Savior.

I also agree with Bruce, that Kline has many helpful insights on other issues. I just disagree with him these issues. The OPC report is very helpful in sifting through what is helpful or not.
 

BRK

Puritan Board Freshman
I do not wish to derail the thread, but having seen a number of references to Meredith Kline both in this thread and elsewhere and being new to Reformed theology, I wanted to ask a question. I was recently gifted a book by Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority, which I have yet to read. Am I at risk of assuming a non-confessional view by reading this? I fear I lack the requisite knowledge to know when I may be being led astray.
 

Regi Addictissimus

Completely sold out to the King
I do not wish to derail the thread, but having seen a number of references to Meredith Kline both in this thread and elsewhere and being new to Reformed theology, I wanted to ask a question. I was recently gifted a book by Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority, which I have yet to read. Am I at risk of assuming a non-confessional view by reading this? I fear I lack the requisite knowledge to know when I may be being led astray.

Nothing against Kline, but if you are new to Reformed Theology, there are much better ways to invest your time.
Invest your time in some historic Reformed Systematic Theologies that have withstood the test of time and scrutiny. Pour yourself into Berkhof, Brakel, or Calvin along with your Bible in hand. I would choose Brakel first. You get a Reformed Systematic and Ethics manual. He will lead you through each doctrine in a warm and pastoral tone.
Read something along the lines of Jonty Rhodes's Covenants Made Simple to gain a necessary foundation of Reformed Covenant Theology with getting bogged down into some of the debates.
Invest your time wisely and may the Lord bless your studies.
 
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Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
Two things: the covenant of works is biblically taught and theologically crucial. My recent work on the Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ in the Westminster Standards seeks to demonstrate how all this (the covenants, imputation of whole obedience, etc.) is of a piece, articulated in our doctrinal standards, which give expression to the system of doctrine taught in Scripture.

That was the first thing; here is the second: get Muller's work. Here's a review: https://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=692.

Peace,
Alan
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
I’ll add my own two cents. The problem in the Klinean formulation is not necessarily overemphasizing the covenant of works but redefining the covenant of works. It redefines the moral law as THE covenant of works. The moral law is fundamentally part of the creation covenant, and actually woven into the fabric of man's nature in creation, so that his natural drive even before the Fall is not just to be righteous (historic Reformed position) but also to earn salvation by it (Klinean position).
https://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.c...n-and-covenant-recast-and-collapsed-together/

https://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/2014/06/14/klines-reactionary-theology/

https://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.c...escension-and-redefinition-of-covenant-merit/
 

BRK

Puritan Board Freshman
Nothing against Kline, but if you are new to Reformed Theology, there are much better ways to invest your time.
Invest your time in some historic Reformed Systematic Theologies that have withstood the test of time and scrutiny. Pour yourself into Berkhof, Brakel, or Calvin along with your Bible in hand. I would choose Brakel first. You get a Reformed Systematic and Ethics manual. He will lead you through each doctrine in a warm and pastoral tone.
Read something along the lines of Jonty Rhodes's Covenants Made Simple to gain a necessary foundation of Reformed Covenant Theology with getting bogged down into some of the debates.
Invest your time wisely and may the Lord bless your studies.

I purchased a Kindle version of Jonty Rhode's Covenants Made Simple the other day. Thank you for the recommendation!
 
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