Posted by: reformedmusings | June 30, 2007

Christ’s Merit and the Covenant of Works

I received a nice email that said in part:

I have seen your posts on Lane’s GreenBaggins blog and thought I’d drop you a note. First, thank you for the work you all did on the PCA FV committee. Not sure you realized the scorn you were in for when you were selected, but thanks for bearing under that as well.

Many thanks for the note. I didn’t think that the experience would make me popular, but the vitriol of “brothers” has been an interesting experience.

On a different note, some Federal Visionists now claim omniscience of my conversations on and off the web. While that’s cute and conveniently self-serving, the really interesting part comes later in the same post:

PS. I’m sorry there are going to be hurt feelings over statements about the content of the report. But the report not only says things are Westminsterian that are not Westminsterian, it says things that members of the committee are still teaching contrary to on their church website as in keeping with Westminster. The report claims that “precisely the point of the Standards’ use of the term and theological category of ‘merit.’ Merit relates to the just fulfillment of the conditions of the covenant of works” (LC 55, 174).” [lines 25-27, p. 2207] But Dr. Ligon Duncan still teaches from his lectures on his church website,

What God is doing is not merited. Adam has not merited this. We use the phrase Covenant of Works, not to say that man earned these blessings, but to express the fact that this original relationship had no provision for the continuation of God’s blessings if disobedience occurred. So it was a covenant contingent upon Adam continuing in his obligations. (emphasis all in the original).

So, according to the report, Dr. Duncan is teaching about the covenant of works contrary to what is teaching “precisely the point of the Standards’ use of the term and theological category of ‘merit.’” Honestly, like someone recently wrote, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

Huh? What Dr. Duncan says in the above quote sounds suspiciously like a summary of this:

I. The distance between God and the creature is go great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant.

II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience. (my emphasis)

Which, of course, is Westminster Confession of Faith 7.1 and 7.2. Not sure what could be more “Westminsterian” than Dr. Duncan practically quoting from the Confession. Concerning the specifics of the quoted passage, it seems to me that Dr. Duncan is talking solely about works by Adam (and us by extension) in relation to the Covenant of Works since the Scriptural context of the lesson cited is Genesis 2. Context is so important, isn’t it?

As to Larger Catechism Question 55:

Q. 55. How doeth Christ make intercession?

A. Christ maketh intercession, by his appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth, declaring his will to have it applied to all believers; answering all accusations against them, and procuring for them quiet of conscience, notwithstanding daily failings, access with boldness to the throne of grace, and acceptance of their persons and services.

There’s that ‘merit’ word used in relation to Christ, not Adam or us. It says that we are saved by “the merit of his obedience and sacrifice”, not by our “covenant faithfulness” until some “final justification” that are hallmarks of the Federal Vision. Christ fulfilled the Covenant of Works for us by his merit “to have it applied to all believers” according to the gospel and our Confession, period.

Lest anyone be mislead, let’s put the report fragment excerpted in the Federal Vision post into its overall context (Ad Interim committee report page 2207, lines 17-32):

The Confession does not equate the instrumentality of faith in relation to justification in the covenant of grace with the conditions of the covenant of works. It carefully distinguishes conditions from requirements and reminds us that even the faith of the elect is the gift of God (WCF 11.1; LC 32). Likewise, the Confession draws a line from the conditions of the covenant of works to the obedience and satisfaction of Jesus Christ, teaching us that it is not our faith or faithfulness but Christ’s work which satisfies the covenant of works (LC 20, 32, WCF 3.5, 7.2, 11.1, SC 12).

This is precisely the point of the Standards’ use of the term and theological category of “merit.” Merit relates to the just fulfillment of the conditions of the covenant of works (LC 5, 174). This no man can do since the Fall (LC 193) but Christ only (WCF 17.3). The standards consistently assert our inability to merit pardon of sin (WCF 16.5), and contrast our demerit with Christ’s merit (LC 55, cf. WCF 30.4). Christ’s work (active and passive, preceptive and penal, perfect and personal, obedience and satisfaction) fulfills the conditions of the covenant of works (WCF 8.5, 11.1, 3, 19.6), and thus secures a just and righteous redemption that is at the same time freely offered and all of grace.

Read in context in the report, you can see that everything falls into place. No contradictions, just pure Westminster across the board in perfect summary of the gospel–saved by Christ’s merit imputed to us by grace alone through faith alone, not by our faithfulness.

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