The Covenant of Works according to Thomas Ridgely

I guess it all depends on the definition of grace. If grace be defined as something relating particularly to man’s sinful state, then there is no doubt: the covenant of works has not a shred of grace attached to it. To put it another way, grace in this sense would be defined as relating not merely to unmerited favor, but rather to demerited favor. That is, not only are we neutral with regard to God’s favor, but rather we have positively spurned it. Here is what Thomas Ridgely wrote about it: “Some call it, ‘a Covenant of Innocency,’ inasmuch as it was made with man while he was in a state of innocency. Others call it, ‘a Covenant of Works,’ because perfect obedience was enjoined, as the condition of it. In this light, it is opposed to the covenant of grace; as there was no provision made in it for any display of grace, as there is in that covenant which we are now under” (vol 1, pg 376). What needs to happen, then, is a full-orbed study of the Hebrew word groups hen and hesed, as well as the Greek word group charis. What we have here is nothing less than a redefinition of grace. Nowhere in Scripture is God’s relationship with Adam described as being gracious, nor is what God gives to Adam described as being grace. I am perfectly willing to admit that God condescended to engage in relationship with Adam, and that Adam did not deserve such a relationship as a creature. However, Adam was sinless, and not in need of any grace in that sense whatsoever. I believe that grace is a concept belonging exclusively to the post-Fall world. Mark Horne, therefore, is full of rhetoric against the “meritists,” but has hardly proven his point Scripturally.

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Oaths and Vows

See here for my sermon on Matthew 5:33-37, a highly important text for this discussion. The passage does not forbid all vows and oaths. This is because Jesus was directing his words toward the target of Pharisees and scribes, who were introducing all sorts of ridiculous casuistry about oaths (which were binding, depending on the wording, etc.). All oaths are binding, whether made to unbelievers or believers. They are to be used only with great care and caution, as the example of Jethro warns us. Oaths are not to be taken in order to do something that is contrary to God’s Word. There are four common oaths taken today: in a courtroom, in a wedding, in a church service (baptism, membership, ordination), and public office. There is nothing to say that these vows are illegitimate. Matthew 5 cannot be taken in an absolute sense, since Jesus Himself takes an oath in front of the high priest that He is who He says He is. The WCF has an interesting note on this: “An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation, or mental reservation.” That last phrase I find very interesting. If we take an oath (such as marriage vows), we are not to hold a caviat in our minds that is not in the oath itself. We cannot say that we will love our spouse as long as our spouse is lovable. The vow says that we will love our spouse. Period.

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Peace, Peace

Matthew 5:9
Someone said that peace is that brief glorious moment in history when everyone stands around reloading. Indeed, Washington D.C. has lots of monuments to peace: we build one after every war. Someone else has said that all told, there has been about 200 years of peace since the beginning of our world. So what hope have we to gain peace in this world? Do we simply yell out “Peace, Peace,” when there is no peace? That is hardly helpful. Peace is not achieved when we deny that there is war. That is the path that Neville Chamberlain took with Nazi Germany. Neville Chamberlain was prime minister of Great Britain before Winston Churchill. Neville wanted peace at all costs. So when Hitler took part of Austria, Neville looked the other way. When Hitler took the rest of Austria, Neville looked the other way. When Hitler took Czechoslovakia, Neville looked the other way. At all costs, he wanted to avoid another world war, which war is what would happen (he thought), if he held Hitler accountable for breaking the Treaty of Versailles. As you all know, Neville Chamberlain was not very successful at avoiding war.

So what is the real answer to war and other forms of hostility? The peace of God, which passes understanding, is the answer. But the question is, how do we implement this? First and foremost, we must have peace with God. Peace with one another is impossible without first having peace with God. So when Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus is also saying that we will be blessed if we make our peace with God. Are you at war with God? We all are in our sinful state. There is no desire for God in us. We want nothing to do with God. We would want God to stop existing, if that were possible. After all, God has seemingly done precious little to help me in my distress, so what good will God do me? However, instead of focusing on why we are angry with God, we really need to focus on why God would be angry with us. God made us for Himself. God made us in order that we would worship Him, and exist in close fellowship with God. And we disobeyed God, and forfeited that closeness that God wants for us. We are enemies of God. That means that we have broken God’s law. And that means that we face death and hell as punishment for our sins. That is bad news. Peace doesn’t look like it is anywhere on the horizon. However, there is hope. The Scripture says, “While we were still enemies, Christ died for us.” God wants peace between us and Him. And therefore, God took steps to eliminate that enmity between man and God. You see, Satan wants us to be in league with him, and therefore be at war with God. God wants us to be in league with God, and be at war with Satan. It is impossible to please both Satan and God. But God sent His Son to redeem us from Satan’s power. Jesus paid the penalty that our sins deserve. He suffered that hell that we so richly deserve. And that is so that we could be reconciled with God, that we could have peace with God. In a sense, God made war against His Only Son, when the Father abandoned Jesus on the cross. God the Father made war on the Son, so that He could have peace with us. That war did not last forever. The Son was resurrected from the dead. Satan thought that death was the final power on earth. But what he did not realize was that God could raise Jesus from the dead. And that seals the victory over sin and death. In this case, peace cannot exist if sin and death are not conquered. In the Roman world, there was such a thing as a pax Romana, or the “peace of Rome.” Rome had conquered all the known world at that time, and so everyone was at peace with Rome. Well now God has conquered every demon, God has conquered Satan, sin, and death. So now, there can be peace with God. Whose side are you on? Are you on the side of the already defeated dark forces of the world? That is senseless. The Bible tells us that we can be on the winning side, the side of Jesus, the conquering lamb. It is always best to be on the winning side. For if you are not, then you will forever be on a losing side, and will enjoy nothing evermore. But Jesus has already conquered. So we should trust in Him for the forgiveness of our sins. Then we will have peace with God. God is the very best peacemaker. No one has gone to such lengths to secure peace as God has done.

But maybe you have an idol in your heart that keeps you from coming to God to have peace with Him. Maybe you are too concerned about getting a fair slice of the pie. Jesus tells us to store up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy. You cannot serve two masters. If you serve money, then you will be at war with God. Maybe you want the finer things of life. But are the finer things the best things? Jesus says no. The best things are the kingdom of heaven. Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, then all these other things will be added. The secret to happiness is holiness. Peace with God means that you need to be righteous before God, since God hates sin. There is only one way for us to be righteous, and that is trusting in Jesus who is our righteousness. Jesus clothes us with His own righteousness, so that our sin will not be exposed for God to see. That clothing can only be given to us if we trust in Jesus, that is, if we have faith in Jesus. That is how to have peace with God. And peace with God is absolutely crucial to having peace with one another.

See, if God is the Great Peacemaker, then if we are peacemakers, we are like God. Indeed, that is why Jesus says that they shall be called “Sons of God.” If we make peace with God and with each other, then we can see the family resemblance. Like father, like son. Look at the world. Does it make peace?

People don’t really want peace, because they are always looking out for number one, themselves! If 7 billion people are all looking out for number one, then there is a lot of competition for number one! There are 7 billion candidates, and everyone else is going to lose, just so that I can get the number one spot. But we are so good at deceiving ourselves, aren’t we? We think that we don’t have to be number one in the world, we just have to be a little bit better than our neighbor, and that will satisfy us. The problem is, that is exactly what our neighbor thinks, too! So, if your neighbor gets a good combine, then you have to get a better one. If your neighbor gets some more land, then you have to get a little bit more than he does. Ladies, you are not immune from this competition either. If someone looks very well put together on Sunday morning, then you have look even more so. If someone looks like they are aging slowly, then you have to age even slower. If someone has fashionable clothes, then you have to outdo her. This is not conducive to peace. We think we have rights. We have no rights. Do we have rights before God? We deceive ourselves by remembering that humanity supposedly has “inalienable rights,” namely, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We can even say that these are given to us by God. That is utterly wrong. We lost all our rights when we disobeyed God in Adam. We have every right to be thrown into hell. So if we are not, and God gives us grace to make peace with God, then where does that leave us? It leaves us in the position of the servant who was forgiven ten thousand talents of gold. How is he going to treat his fellow servant?

So what happens when our fellow servant owes us something? Supposing someone is our debtor? Will we forgive them, even as we have been forgiven? Or will we hold grudges? Merely neglecting to bring something up with the person who has offended you does not constitute forgiveness. Thinking of that person as “the other guy” does not constitute forgiveness either. Peace takes a lot of work. In our community, we tend to let things go. If we are offended, we tend to let it go, hoping that the problem will go away. But it never does, does it? Why do we think that way? If someone has offended us, we need to go to that person, and gently tell them that that action offended us.

So here is a strategy for peacemaking. Let’s say that someone said something about you behind your back to someone else, and you hear about it. You can go to the person who said it, and say, “You know, I love you as a brother, but when you did this particular action, it offended me.” Notice that you should NOT say, “Every time you do that, it drives me nuts.” What is the difference? The better way is to limit the offense to a very particular action. Do not generalize about the other person, or they will feel like you are attacking them. It is good to avoid phrases such as, “You always” or “You never.” These will immediately put the other person on defense. They will feel that they need to defend themselves. Instead, if you say that the ACTION offended them, then you are giving them an opportunity to apologize without losing face. Because you are focused on the particular action, and not on the person, you have opened the door to an honest sincere apology that will not make the other person defensive.

But there are certain situations in which it would be good to ignore the offense. Ask yourself the question whether you know the motive behind what the person did or said. How can you know for sure? If someone trespasses on your property, should you not ask the person why? Suppose they had to rescue their little one from some danger, and they had to trespass. Are you so sure you know the reason why? Supposing someone “borrows” something from you without asking. We should not do that, but suppose it happens. Are you going to assume that the person meant to steal it? Jumping to conclusions about why a person did or said what they did or said is a most dangerous thing to do. It is very unwise. And it will be an obstacle to making peace, because you run the very serious risk of injuring someone else’s reputation, and committing a greater wrong against them than they did to you. Don’t assume that you know the reason why they think the way they do. It could be an obstacle in the way to true forgiveness.

And we are required to make peace. Again, as we have said before, these beatitudes imply the corresponding curse: cursed are those who do not make peace, for they will never be called sons of God. Do you refuse to make peace? Do you refuse to make it up with those on the other side? Why? There is no need for you to justify yourself if God will make all things right in the end. So make true peace with the other person. We often think of making peace as the art of getting the other person to come around to your way of thinking. That is not true peace, because that will often make the other person resent your efforts. Instead, true peace can be found only as the differences are brought to light without offending the other person in the process.

So what is the promise for those who make peace? They will be called sons of God. Ladies, do not feel left out. In fact, this passage has great joy for you, too. You see, sons were the only ones who inherited the estate. So sons were always the inheritors. What Jesus says here is that anyone who is a peacemaker, both in terms of making their peace with God, and also making peace with other, those people, whether male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, will all have the inheritance rights. Notice that they will be called sons of God. That implies adoption into God’s family. We left our Father’s house. We were like the prodigal son. We had disinherited ourselves from the promise of the inheritance. But there is a way back. God can adopt us as sons, and we will have the full inheritance rights restored.

We have the down payment of the inheritance now, namely, the Holy Spirit. But that means that we have the full inheritance to look forward to, the inheritance of the new heavens and the new earth. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. I want to conclude with this beautiful prayer by Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace! Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy. Oh, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying that we are born to eternal life!

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