This is an article by R. Fowler White and E. Calvin Beisner, entitled “Covenant, Inheritance, and Typology,” subtitled “Understanding the Principles at Work in God’s Covenants.” I wonder if “principles at work” is a pun intended or not. That is an interesting question. This is one of the harder articles to read, but correspondingly more rewarding when the effort is expended.
Their thesis is that FV and NPP have denied sola fide by either affirming the doctrine but redefining the terms, or by using traditional terms in non-traditional ways. Their area of critique is the doctrine of the covenants. They start by pointing out that a “redefinition of the doctrine of God’s covenants inevitably brings reformulation of the doctrine of justification” (pg. 148). The rest of the article proves this point. They proceed first by a fresh exposition (read “conservative, Reformed, historical” here!) of the doctrine of the covenants. They argue that “two contrasting but compatible principles of inheritance- namely, personal merit (i.e., merit grounded in the heir’s own works) and representative merit (i.e., merit grounded in another works)- are at work in each of these covenants and that these principles of inheritance have existed side-by-side through all of history (pre-fall and post-fall) until Christ, with the former always subserving the latter” (pp. 148-149). It should be noted here tha the “compatible” aspect, according to White/Beisner, means not that the two are identical, but that the Mosaic economy and the New Covenant have aspects of continuity and discontinuity (works and grace both). If you still have questions about what they mean, just hold on, and it will become clear. A very important footnote (note 2 on pg. 149) deals with the question of the validity of merit as a biblical category. Not only do they explain Calvin’s “repudiation” of merit, but they thoroughly trounce Lusks’ objections by noting Calvin’s acceptance of the category with regard to Christ’s work.
The first covenant in priority is the covenant of redemption. In theology, this refers to a supra-historical pact made between the Father and the Son, whereby Christ’s own inheritance was promised to Him on the basis of His personal merit, whereas the people of God’s inheritance was promised to them (in Christ) by the representative principle of inheritance (pp. 149-150). The most amazing insight of the entire paper (in my judgment) is in footnote 4 on pg. 150: “That the principle of inheritance by personal merit (meritorious works) originates not in the covenant of works but in the covenant of redemption refutes the objection that it is improper to posit merit on the part of the creature toward the Creator.” This is pure brilliance, and in one stroke, takes the rug out from under the entire FV’s objection to merit in the CoW. The entire (lengthy) footnote is brilliant: read it!
They move on then to the CoW. White/Beisner distinguish between the commission given to Adam in 2:15 and the commandments given in 2:16-17. The latter are the works principle, and are completely bilateral in fulfillment. The commission, however, was not part of that: it was unilateral and inviolable (see pg. 152 for the argumentation of this). They argue (footnote 11 on pg. 152) that the function of Gen 2:16-17 is the same as the commandments given on Mt. Sinai: “words morally obligating but not effectuating their fulfillment.” One question I would have is this: in what way do they not effectuate the fulfillment of the CoW? Is this lapsing into a gracious fulfillment of the CoW?
Then, they address the CoG. The two principles are still at work even here: personal merit-Christ; and representative merit-Christ to us: “His appointment as mediator in the covenant of grace is the reward for his obedience to the stipulations of the covenant of redemption” (pg. 153). In passing, (another footnote: why are most of their best thoughts in the footnotes?) they notice that “in a crucial sense, the blessings to the elect include the curses on the reprobate” (note 14 on pg. 153). The way they describe the CoG is in this way: “The covenant of grace is the historical context for the outworking of the suprahistorical covenant of redemption” (pg. 154).
Having exposited the covenants, they move on to the two seeds of Adam and Christ, related to the two principles of inheritance: “For both Adam’s seed and Christ’s seed, the inheritance of eternal life is conditioned on the obedience of their representative and is, therefore, procured vicariously for the seed by the meritorious works of another” (pp. 154-155). They sum up their account of the CoG with this remarkably helpful statement: “Accordingly, in the covenant of grace there is a triple imputation: God imputes christ’s righteousness in fulfilling the covenant of works (his active obedience) to the elect; he imputes the guilt of the elect (because of their breaking of the covenant of works) to Christ in his suffering (his passive obedience); and he imputes the penal satisfaction of his justice by Christ to the elect” (pg. 155). Actually, I might have liked to see them work in the covenant of redemption to this summary, but one cannot have everything.
What follows is a discussion of analogies to this covenantal structure in the covenant to Noah (a common grace covenant), the relation of the Mosaic Covenant to the Abrahamic Covenant, the relation of the MC to the NC, the relation of the MC to the CoW, and the conclusion. I am trying to tell everything about the article. These last sections (which form the rest of the article) are also excellent. But you should read it for yourself. The point of this review, after all, is to get you to buy the book, which you should.