God’s Law

The law of God has its origin not in the Mosaic economy, but in the Covenant of Works. In fact, theWCF says that the law was given as a covenant of works (19.1). This is completely contrary to most proponents of the Federal Vision, who, if they acknowledge the covenant of works at all, will not say that the law is part of the covenant of works as the stipulations. They have this completely erroneous notion that because God condescended to make a covenant with Adam, that the inheritance of eternal life could not have been on the basis of merit. What these authors fail time and time again to realize is that there are more definitions of merit than absolute condign merit. Absolute, condign merit is not possible for any mere human to achieve, not even Adam. However, Christ, the God-man, did achieve this kind of merit, since He did not have to achieve it for Himself, but achieved it vicariously. But it is never this kind of merit that could be predicated of Adam. Instead, it is merit according to a pact. That is, God condescended to bind Himself to the fulfillment of the promises of the Covenant of Works, if Adam obeyed. Another vital point to consider here is the definition of grace. Grace is usually defined as unmerited favor given by God to sinful people. As a matter of fact, we have not merely “unmerited” God’s favor, but we have positively “demerited” God’s favor. That is, we have not merely been neutral with regard to God’s favor. We have actively spurned it, and in thus doing, we have made ourselves worthy of nothing but judgment.

So, Adam can be said to have merited eternal life, if it is understood that the merit being spoken of is the merit of obedience to the pact to which God bound Himself by condescension.

The WCF says that it is this very law that is republished in the Sinai Covenant. It continued to be the perfect rule of righteousness, even if mankind was no longer going to inherit eternal life by doing the works of the law. What this means is that in the Sinai Covenant, though certainly part of the covenant of grace, the covenant of works still plays a part. There is an element of the covenant of works in the Mosaic economy. The one who does these things may live by them. But cursed is the one who does not continue in all the works of the law, to do them. If one performs circumcision with a view toward law-keeping and eternal life, then one is obligated to perform the whole law.

All this leads us to the divines’ interpretation of the law, which can be found in LC 99.4. This passage explains why it is that the divines interpret the law given to Adam as indicating that life was promised upon obedience, even if that promise is not explicitly stated. The flip side of any command or negation is implied. So, in the statement “Do not eat of the tree,” what is implied there is trusting in the commandment of God, that God has defined good and evil, and that God is the ultimate authority in their lives. The opposite promise of life (to the threat of death) is also promised, according to the divines’ interpretation in LC 99.4.

The law of God as given at Mount Sinai can be divided into three parts: the moral law, the civil law, and the ceremonial law. Only the first part, the moral law (as comprehended in the Ten Commandments) is still binding on the Christian (though not for salvation, since we are no longer subject to the covenant of works. We are subject to it as a rule or guide for the Christian life). The second and third parts of the law are now expired.

There are three uses of the law. The first use is to show us our sin and to point us to Christ. The second use is to restrain unbelievers from being as bad as they could be. The third use of the law is as a guide to the Christian life.

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