The OPC Republication Report, Part 11

In this post, we look at Part I, chapter 3, sections 3 and 4 of the report, the historical examination of the Westminster divines’ exegesis of key passages. The third section starts out by noticing that certain passages that speak of a works principle are applied to the Mosaic economy in the prooftexts of the Westminster Assembly. However, the question that remains when this is noted is whether this supports a Westminsterian substantial republication idea, or some other position. The range of the question must be carefully noted here, for they are not asking what is the range of Westminsterian opinion on the Mosaic economy as a whole. Rather, the inquiry focuses on the divines’ exegesis of key passages that were cited in the prooftexts.

Their conclusion surprised them a bit. There does not seem to be much evidence in the exegesis of those texts for a substantial republication idea. It looks as though William Gouge is the only divine who would seem to point in that direction. There is ample evidence for other positions, such as the position of William Strong, who held that the CoW is always republished with regard to unbelievers (I hold this position at the least, as indeed, probably most Reformed folk do who hold to the CoW at all). The committee also found evidence for the view that the CoW is administratively republished in the Mosaic economy as an equivalent of the pedagogical use of the law (this also seems reasonable to me).

The fourth section asks questions regarding trajectories. The trajectory of a substantial republication does not seem justified by the Standards. Even if the door is “cracked open” a little bit, that does not change the overall situation. The basic covenantal theology of the Westminster Standards is that the substance of the CoG is repeated in all the post-lapsarian covenantal iterations. If there is an administrative overlay of something else, that can in no way compromise the underlying continuity of the substance. On the level of covenantal administration, the Westminster Standards freely acknowledge redemptive-historical change (“differently administered in the time of the law, and the time of the gospel” in WCF 7.5 and similar language in other places).

It seems plain to this writer that the term “substantial” is important to define. If “substantial” means “of the substance of the covenant,” then it is obvious that the Mosaic economy is not a republication of the CoW in this substantial sense. However, if the word “substantial” is used in some other sense, then there might be a bit more room for discussion.

Again, the larger questions have to do with how God treated Israel in the land, so I will take another stab at this question. On the one hand, if Israel was either to acquire or retain the land on the basis of their own perfect and personal obedience, then why weren’t they kicked out of the land far sooner than they were? If Israel was either to acquire or retain the land on the basis of Christ’s perfect and personal obedience, then why would they ever be kicked out, unless faith was made a necessary instrument? It seems dubious to me, however, to make acquisition or retention of the land dependent on the instrument of faith. Obedience and disobedience seem clearly to be a factor in Israel’s retention of the land, but if it is not perfect and personal obedience, then how do we understand this conundrum?

While I haven’t yet worked out all the details, it still seems to me profitable to understand the relationship between God and Israel as being a filial one at just this point. Just as a father might make retention of a place in the home to be dependent on the son obeying certain rules, so also might God have done. The underlying relationship is not based on works, but on the grace of filial adoptive relationship (and salvation is of grace). This would help explain why there was so much slack built in to the arrangement (an earthly father would surely not kick out his son from the home on the first or even tenth violation of the rules). However, as a long-standing pattern of disobedience started to emerge in Israel’s history, the Heavenly Father (slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness), in His good timing, decided (according to His eternal plan, of course) that filial discipline was needed. Hence the exile. Just as an earthly father may come to the point where he decides that his son is so consistently disobedient that the arrangement can no longer continue, but that discipline is needed, and kicks the son out of the house in order to bring him to his senses, so also God saw that discipline was needed for Israel and Judah. Given the fact that the situation in the Garden of Eden was so much stricter, and that one instance of disobedience only was required to break the covenant completely, I think the most we can say is that there are quite possibly echoes of Eden in the Mosaic economy. Indeed, the very fact that so much slack is built in to the Mosaic economy must be proof against a substantial republication idea. God did not deal with Israel’s sins as Israel deserved.

On this understanding, one crucial question must be asked: how does this idea of fatherly disciplne square with the divorce language of the prophets and the marital metaphors concomitant with the situation? First of all, it must be noted that more than one metaphor is appropriate when considering God’s relationship to His people. The people of God are both God’s adopted children, and, at the same time, the bride of Christ. Even the divorce language of the prophets, however, must be softened by the situation of Hosea pursuing after his bride, even after her unfaithfulness. There is always a remnant. God never abandoned His people, even in the exile, as Ezekiel and Daniel well attest. I believe that the language of a final end must be interpreted as the language of shock and awe, used to bring God’s people to their senses. If one takes the language of a final end in an absolute sense, then we cannot make sense of the return or the idea of a remnant. In other words, the metaphors of adoption and marriage in the Old Testament cannot be pressed beyond their proper boundaries so as to come into conflict with one another.