Good Post on the Covenant of Works

The Vossed World has a great post on the Covenant of Works here.

The Aloneness of Faith in Justification

In view of recent discussion on the Vos quotation, I thought this quotation from William Pemble’s outstanding book on justification would be helpful:

We argue thus: a man is justified either by the works of the law or by faith in Christ. But he is not justified by the works of the law. Ergo, he is justified only by faith in Christ. In this disjunctive syllogism, they cannot find fault with us for adding the word “only” in the conclusion, which was not in the premises. For reason will teach them that he two terms are immediately opposite; if one is taken away, the other remains alone. So in every disjunctive syllogism whose major proposition stands upon two terms immediately opposite, if one term is removed in the proposition, the conclusion is plainly equivalent to an exclusive proposition. For example, we argue thus: either the wicked are saved or the godly. But the wicked are not saved. Thence it follows in exclusive terms that the godly only are saved. Similarly, in this case, our adversaries cannot deny that the proposition (a man is justified either by works or by faith) consists of terms immediately opposite. For otherwise they accuse the Apostle Paul of a lack of logic who should conclude falsely that “a man is justified by faith without works” (Romans 3:28) if he is justified either by both together, or else by neither. (pp. 58-59 of The Justification of a Sinner).

Of course, this does not answer the question of what kind of works are excluded from justification. All the Reformers agree that it is all works which are excluded, not merely some works. N.T. Wright argues that the eta at the beginning of verse 29 indicates that, since the Jew/Gentile issue is brought to the fore in verses 29ff, that therefore the works of verse 28 that are excluded from justification are not all works, but merely the Jewish “badge” works. This argument is illegitimate, since the Gentiles did not have the Torah (although they did have the moral law imprinted on their conscience and revealed in nature: see verse 19). The question is the definition of “law” in verse 28. The context indicates that it is not merely the “badge” parts of the law that are indicated. Verse 31 has a distinctly inclusive stamp about its use of the term “law,” as does verse 21. After all, verses 9-20 just got finished telling us that Jew and Gentile are under the law. If they are both under it, then the law spoken of HAS to be the moral law, since the Gentiles were not under the badge parts of the law.

The only question remaining, then, is the question of the contrast of “law of works” and “law of faith” in verse 27. I believe that Paul is using the term “law” here for “principle.” The principle of faith inherently rules out boasting, since the righteousness we have by faith is not our own, but is rather Christ’s righteousness. Obviously, a principle of works (the “law of works”) would not rule out boasting. Verse 28 then goes back to the earlier definition of “law” to mean the moral law.

So that leaves us with the question of what to do with the eta of verse 29. The logic goes like this: the Jews are the only ones who have tried to justify themselves by the works of the moral law. The Gentiles haven’t even bothered to try. But if justification has to be by the works of the moral law, the Jews were the only ones who would have known about it. But God is not the God of the Jews only. Therefore, the way of salvation has to be a way that is open to Gentiles as well. That way is by faith alone, apart from works of the moral law.