I was having a deep conversation with a dear friend in regard to the Covenant of Works. It was my position that the Covenant of Works has an external aspect to it like the Covenant of Grace. He disagreed. The question was posed on Puritanboard without divulging my name. Here is the conversation and my response:
Question: do you think the Covenant of Works has 2 aspects to it – internal and external? Or is it only internal?
The Reformed community throughout history has explain the Covenant of Grace as internal and external. But I have a friend who is thinking through the CoW as having an internal and external aspect to it.
He is thinking through this and concluding that the elect Christian (not a professing Christian) is in the CoW externally, where a reprobate is in the CoW internally.
If one means we “were” children of wrath and under Adam at some time, then translated into the kingdom of His beloved Son later in life, switching from the CoW to the CoG and in that way seems to apply, I get that. But in saying that RIGHT NOW the elect are in the CoW externally, I don’t see Christ, Paul or anyone else explaining it that way in Scripture. I see Paul saying we are IN the beloved, i.e. Christ and the CoG.
Thoughts on that?
Response. Person 2:
Seems like a precommitment to an ideal of symmetry–i.e. since the CoG has internal/external aspects, therefore the CoW should be analyzed the same way.
I don’t think we want to do theology in that way. There is no comparable interest Scripture has in unfolding the CoW, as with the CoG. There is no need to make such a parallel set of categories.
Besides, this sort of thinking takes our eyes off the reality of the Federal Head. In what way would believers be “externally” in covenant with Adam? Or, in league with the Devil (if one insists on taking this issue out even further)? Right now, we are strangers and aliens in the earth.
Fruitless inquiry, if you ask me.
My response to the above:
My 2 cents: This was discussed to a degree here in 2014:
Bruce may be right in that the position may be an issue of synergy.
The way I see it is that if a reprobate is in the external side of the C of G, his relationship to that covenants is essentially, nil except for it’s condemning effects. His ownership is to the internal side of the C of W’s primarily. In the same way, since no covenant is abrogated, i.e. Christ fulfilled the requirements of the C of W’s-this does not mean that the C of W’s is done away with per se; as justifier, for the elect, it is fulfilled in Christ, yes; but the covenant itself, remains. It is eternal! It’s essence, the decalogue was even given to Moses for the benefit of the people of God, i.e. schoolmaster. Since it is externally still intact for believers, it doesn’t have the condemning power it haves over unbelievers. As Paul states, the law is good. Having said that, for the believer to be in the external side of the C of W’s has the same relationship I earlier mentioned in regard to reprobates that are in the external side of the C of G, nil. The believer doesn’t have any real relationship to the C of w’s.
Personally, I don’t see the injustice of said position. All it says is that the believer still acknowledges the perpetuity of all of God’s covenants and embraces it’s essence in that the law is still schoolmaster and good for the bride.
Bruce mentioned being ‘in league w/ the devil’ if one holds to this idea. I would only ask if believers who embrace God’s law and have a high regard for God’s law, even in light of Christ’s work, are they in ‘league’? What is Christ’s position in the C of G vs C of W’s?
Why is it so unconventional to hold to a synergy here. We see no use of the word covenant in the old testament prior to Gen 3-this does not imply there was not a covenant prior to this time. We can appreciate this in using inference or good and necessary consequence on the matter. In the same way, why is it such an injustice to apply the same mentality towards the C of W’s that we use in regard to the C of G. It is not like the term external and internal are drawn out in scripture! We get to this conclusion in the same manner in regard to the C of G.
For example, on the C of G, all those in the internal side are true believers and have Christ as mediator; the external side is condemning for those attached in they have no mediation. Their relationship is essentially nil except for the condemnation that follows. When you contrast that to the C of W’s, these reprobates that are on the external side of the C of G are by default primarily in the internal side of the C of W’s. Externally speaking, the regenerates are on the external side and have no real relationship any longer with the C of W’s except for the idea that we are still under the law of God. Since Christ mediates here, there is no longer any condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Again, on the external side of this covenant is essentially nil as we have mediation, just like those who are on the external side of the C of G have no mediation, hence their relationship to the C of G is empty..
It looks like Bavinck’s Dogmatics ch 6 and Reymond hold that we have some relationship still w/ the C of W’s. Reymond says that it is no longer ‘probationary’ though. Hodge, says, No!. The same for Gouge. Fisher in his catechism says about the C of W’s *q42/pg 75:
Q: “Does not the law of faith abrogate the law of works?
A: No. Do we make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea we establish the law. Rom 3:31
Fisher seems to consider the C of W’s and the law synonymous (if I am understanding him) hence his position.
‘2. The Reformed view. Even some Reformed theologians speak of the abrogation of the legal covenant, and seek proof for this in such passages as Heb. 8:13. This naturally raised the question, whether, and in how far, the covenant of works can be considered as a thing of the past; or whether, and in how far, it must be regarded as still in force. It is generally agreed that no change in the legal status of man can ever abrogate the authority of the law; that God’s claim to the obedience of His creatures is not terminated by their fall in sin and its disabling effects; that the wages of sin continues to be death: and that a perfect obedience is always required to merit eternal life. This means with respect to the question under consideration:
a.*That the covenant of works is not abrogated:*(1) in so far as the natural relation of man to God was incorporated in it, since man always owes God perfect obedience; (2) in so far as its curse and punishment for those who continue in sin are concerned; and (3) in so far as the conditional promise still holds. God might have withdrawn this promise, but did not, Lev. 18:5: Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12. It is evident, however, that after the fall no one can comply with the condition.
b.*That the covenant of works is abrogated:*(1) in so far as it contained new positive elements, for those who are under the covenant of grace; this does not mean that it is simply set aside and disregarded, but that its obligations were met by the Mediator for His people; and (2) as an appointed means to obtain eternal life, for as such it is powerless after the fall of man.
*L. Berkhof,*Systematic Theology*(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 218.
Ch 19 of the WCF seems to imply that the C of W’s cont’s in the law:
1. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it. (Gen. 1:26–27, Gen. 2:17, Rom. 2:14–15, Rom. 10:5, Rom. 5:12, 19, Gal. 3:10,12, Eccl. 7:29, Job 28:28)
2. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: (James 1:25, James 2:8, 10–12, Rom. 13:8–9, Deut. 5:32, Deut. 10:4, Exod. 34:1) the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man. (Matt. 22:37–40)
6. Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; (Rom. 6:14, Gal. 2:16, Gal. 3:13, Gal. 4:4–5, Acts 13:39, Rom. 8:1) yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; (Rom. 7:12, 22, 25, Ps. 119:4–6, 1 Cor. 7:19, Gal. 5:14, 16, 18–23) discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; (Rom. 7:7, Rom. 3:20) so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin, (James 1:23–25, Rom. 7:9, 14, 24) together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience
*The Westminster Confession of Faith*(Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
It is as well important to note that many authors use the term ‘regeneration’ to describe the whole of the ordo. In the same way, I have seen that often times we can see some of these same authors using the term ‘old covenant’ to describe the C of W’s instead of the C of G, status post fall; which confuses things, just like with the term ‘regeneration’. One needs to read between the lines.*
Dabney, speaking of Adam:
‘The moment he fell, by that act, the race fell in him, and its apostasy was effected; the thing was done; and could not be done over. From that hour, a Covenant of works became inapplicable to man, and neither parents nor children, for themselves, nor for each other, have had any probation under it.’
R. Reymond uses the same treatment. However, one wonders, since Reymond endorses the C of W’s still (just not it’s probationary rule) if he and Dabney are on the exact page.
*R. L. Dabney,*Syllabus and Notes of the Course of Systematic and Polemic Theology, Second Edition. (St. Louis: Presbyterian Publishing Company, 1878), 335.
In Turretin’s inst’s, he says that ‘strictly speaking, (the old covenant) however, it denotes the C of W’s or the moral law given by Moses’. Vol2/pg 233-234
Also, as mentioned, the term ‘covenant’ cannot be found prior to gen 3; John Ball says that the doctrine must be gotten to by good and necessary consequence; hence, why would it be such a stretch to, as Bruce Buchanan said, synergize the internal/external distinction? God does not change, right; especially when it comes to how He covenants?
Grudem says that the C o W’s is still in effect in some senses, though no one is able to keep it based on the obvious.
James Nichols? No.*
Ultimately, under the C of G, in the divided sense, men still acknowledge and pursue righteousness in Christ and love God’s law. They know it does not save, but still pursue the keeping of it.
Witsius writes: “The law of works is that which prescribes works as the condition of a right to life. Given of old to Adam. II. Then repeated by Moses, as subservient to the covenant of grace.”
*Herman Witsius,*Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 86.
If I am understanding Witsius, I hold to the idea that the ‘law of works’ is still in effect, but subservient or subordinate to the C of G and it’s people. This is the key distinction that I propose. In this, believers are in the external side of the C of W’s. It is subservient to the fact that believers primary condition is in the internal side of the C of G now. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus!
If the ‘law’, i.e. the Mosaic covenant is considered, at least by some, to be the essence of the C of W’s, then it has a great use in that it is the schoolmaster who shows God’s people their sin and ultimately drives people to Christ. Hence it is valuable to the church.*
Fisher writes in his catechism:
Q. 23. If both covenants, of grace and works, were exhibited on Mount Sinai, were not the Israelites, in that case, under both these covenants at one and the same time?
1. They could not be under both covenants in the same respects, at the same time; and therefore they must be considered either as believers or unbelievers, both as to their outward church state and inward soul frame.
2. 24. In what respects were the believing Israelites, in the Sinaitic transaction, under both covenants?
3. They were internally and really under the covenant of grace, as all believers are, Rom. 6:14, and only externally, under the above awful display of the covenant of works, as it was subordinate and subservient to that of grace, in pointing out the necessity of the Surety-righteousness, Gal. 3:24.
4. 25. In what respects were unbelievers among them, under these two covenants of works and grace?
5. They were only externally, and by profession, in respect of their visible church state, under the covenant of grace, Rom. 9:4; but internally, and really, in respect of the state of their souls, before the Lord, they were under the covenant of works, chap. 4:14, 15.
In regard to Christ and where He is positionally:
Christ was surety and mediator; that doesn’t put Him in the C of G as he needs no grace-He is (as the WCF and the bible states) ‘full of grace’.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
It would be my position that Christ remains in the C of W’s, externally. The work is done completely.
Christ is the head of the C of G. Christ is the head of the church-He is NOT the church. The bride is the church! In the same way, the distinction between surety, mediator and head needs to be considered in light of actually being an actual participant of said gracious covenant.
Once He kept the law and suffered for the sins of mankind, He was moved to the external side of the C of W’s and remains there today-not as an actual participant, but a member. The elect however, are different as they are In the C of G internally and the C of W’s externally. Christ is in the C of W’s only-externally.
The distinction between membership and participant must be considered in all covenants. For example, the elect in the C of G: we are members of, but not participants of. The elect are in the internal aspect of the Covenant of Grace. Christ is the actual participant in the Covenant of Grace acting on our behalf-it is His work, not ours. He is In the external side of the C of W’s, not Covenant of Grace. Christ is, even now, a member of, no longer a participant in the Covenant of Works as He fulfilled it’s requirements, once for all time. The reprobate? They are members of the C of W’s, actively, in the internal aspect. In the C of G, if you follow Bavinck, i.e. Covenant of nature, all peoples that are outside of Christ, this to include those who profess absolutely no religion, are participants in an external sense of the C of G based on the law being written on their hearts and being made in the image of God.