A Gracious Covenant of Works?

Doug continues our discussion, which I think is getting very interesting. It may be a while before I get to the next section in Credenda. Let me interact with his post in some detail.

But if all Reformed theologians agree that obedience was necessary in the Garden, and a lot of them (as Lane concedes) believe that the covenant of works there was actually a gracious covenant, it follows from this that the required obedience, had it been rendered by Adam, would have been a gracious gift from God.

This does not follow, in my opinion, since there is equivocation present here in the term “gracious covenant.” In what sense is it gracious? If all that is meant is that condescension was necessary on God’s part for there to be a covenant of works at all, I agree. But this does not mean that, in an immediate sense, the required obedience would have been a gracious gift from God, since it is the nature of the immediate context of Adam’s obedience that is the question. Yes, God gave Adam the necessary moral qualifications to obey the covenant. However, it was up to Adam to obey. The terms of the covenant itself were not gracious. Not that they were harsh. Adam was expected to obey perfectly in the CoW. We are not, in the CoG. There was no leeway in the CoW, no forgiveness, no atonement, no redemption. Adam was in an unfallen state. Where would the impetus have come from, then, for Adam to obey God? It would have come immediately from Adam, even though such ability to choose the good had been given him by God. It was still up to Adam to use that gift properly. God bound Himself by the terms of the covenant, then, to reward Adam’s obedience. If Adam had obeyed, he could have come to God and said, “Father, you promised that if I obeyed, you would give me eternal life. I have obeyed. Please give me eternal life.” But to call the Covenant of Works a gracious covenant is misleading in that it obscures the ground of Adam’s inheritance, which would have been his obedience. Ultimately, we can ask the question this way: by the terms of the CoW, would Adam have deserved eternal life had he obeyed? (Notice the importance of the first clause of the question, which puts us in the realm of pactum merit.) The answer is yes. This can be inferred from the fact that disobedience most definitely deserved eternal death. By the law of opposites then, obedience (by the terms of the covenant) would have deserved eternal life, which Adam did not already possess. Eternal life, by its very definition, is not temporary, conditional, or losable, contrary to Adam’s situation.  

When Paul talks about grace and works driving one another out, he is talking about grace on the one hand and autonomous works on the other. In the Pauline vocabulary, grace and works displace one another. But Paul doesn’t think the same way about grace and obedience.

I have a proposal here, Doug. Let’s talk about some individual passages where you believe Paul is distinguishing between autonomous works, on the one hand, and obedience on the other hand, with regard to justification. This is a very important point, and one that has not really been discussed much in the literature of the Federal Vision to my knowledge (though the point has certainly been brought up in the Reformation literature). And it is an exegetical claim. Let’s get our exegetical hands dirty.

My exegetical claim is that when it comes to justification, Paul makes no such distinction between autonomous works and obedience. He excludes works and obedience from justification. Now, let’s be clear. I would think we both agree that there is a distinction between works done before faith and works done after faith. The former are not good works at all, since they are not done to the glory of God. The latter are those works which we were created to do, and which we should therefore do. So, the question is this: are the latter works, the works of obedience, the works that spring from faith (which are truly good works) part of justification, or not? I would say no. No works of ours of any kind, and no obedience of ours of any kind, factor into justification in any way whatsoever. In other words, in the Pauline sense of the word “justification,” works and obedience play no part. The only exception in the entire Bible is when James is talking about evidential justification. Is our justification true or not? The evidence brought forth to prove the point is our works. But this is not our justification before God. It is rather proof to the world and to Satan that their false accusations against the saints were not well-founded. It is not that declarative act of God by which He pronounces us not guilty and instead heirs of eternal life. Instead, what James is talking about is the genuineness of our justification. A genuine justification produces good works.  

If Adam had stood the test, it would have been through the instrumentality of faith-animated obedience, graciously given by God.

I would not put it this way. I would say that if Adam had stood the test, it would have through the instrumentality of faith-animated obedience (understanding faith here to be different than what we have, in that Adam could see God), the ability of which was condescendingly given by God. The obedience itself, in other words, was not given by God. The ability to obey was, since it was part of Adam being created morally innocent.

One other very important question to raise here is the nature of grace. Is grace defined as God giving something simply undeserved to someone? Or does it mean that God gives something to someone who has deserved the opposite? This is, of course, a Klinean question to raise. However, the WS do not use the term “grace” of the pre-Fall situation. Instead, they use the term “condescension.” I have a hard time believing that it is mere coincidence. At the very least, if we are going to use the term of both situations, we have to recognize the difference in meaning. Adam did not need grace in the same way that we need grace.

It has taken me awhile to figure out what Doug is saying about Romans 2:13. Let me try to summarize what he is saying. In effect, Doug is saying that justifying faith is never alone, even though it is alone in justification itself. The “doers” then are those who have already been justified, and are now doing the law. The only difficulty with this view of the passage is the future tense “will be.” Would not Doug’s view require Paul to have written “The doers of the law have been justified?” It is the future tense which, in my opinion, makes the two options I mentioned exclusive of other possibilities. Either it is saying that there is a hypothetical way of self-justification, namely, by doing the law perfectly (which cannot happen, since all have sinned), or it is saying that future justification depends in some manner on our works (which does not have to be taken in a legalistic direction: it could be taken in the Jamesian sense mentioned above, in which case we would have an evidential use of the verb in Paul). I see no other way to account for the future tense.