Pied Pipers Of The Covenant Of Works

There has been some chatter as of late in the misty blogs concerning the mythological monster called CoW who lived the Garden of Eden. I would have to say that seeing that there is no proof of such a hissing giant, people like John Piper can have their way with it if they want:

Harp from the Willows: John Piper and the covenant of works

An online acquaintance, a Reformed Baptist in the  SBC (if that isn’t in itself a blasphemous cohabitation), has a defense here.

As a proof text for the CoW, Hosea 6:7a says nothing whatsoever about Adam the man. Calvin’s take was that it meant man, not the man Adam. In context his argument has weight. All men, in context, always transgress the covenant. But, also in context the term is most likely in reference to a city, as that is the context, namely the condemnation of the cities and peoples under consideration. They, like all men, broke covenant. But as good Calvinists we understand that all doesn’t always mean all. Beside, in 6:7b we have to ask where there is. In 6:8 we see Gilead a city of evildoers. Calvin’s interpretation has strong merit, though I think it is simply the name of a city. In either case, it is not a verse to use for a Covenant of Works in the Garden for the very reason that it is a matter of dispute. Even Meredith Kline demurred such, but chose to ignore the controversy for the sake of his hermeneutic. Ipse dixit- he needed it to be so, so it was so, because he said so. The CoW becomes through the covenantal blinders of hermeneutical tradition. In other words, when seen through this verse, it is a creature of imagination born of necessity.

Though Calvin thought that Adam would have eventually ascended to heaven, he was clear that there was nothing which man had to fulfill (what it means to fulfill may be the working out of what is, rather than working for what is yet to be, as in Philippians 2:12-13 where we see our salvation being worked out by God according to his good pleasure, it is and is yet becoming what it is). It was all given, according to Calvin, (it may be in this sense that Adam was a type of Christ, alternatively, that he was the head of the first kind, Jesus the head of a last kind, or it might simply be that Adam bore the burden of sin coming into the world as antithesis, for we see Eve that brought sin into the human race, but Adam bears that sin for her and all those who came out from him, my emphasis). To the chagrin of many covenantalists, he discounted attempts to make the tree of life a means of life seeing life was something Adam already possessed. He granted it as most likely only a memorial to God’s providence by which Adam had life, not the reward of life for active obedience, nor the means of attaining it. A shocking thing to those who view it as a type of sacramental seal. Adam’s, life was given, his dominion was given, his subjection of the world was given, and he was placed into it, not to gain it, but to keep it. And even the keeping, Calvin said, was a gift of God’s providence so that Adam would have not worries that he might fail at his given task. It might be stated, man does not live by bread he makes alone, but even its ingredients, the recipe, and the ability to knead it and the hearth to bake the bread, is provided by every thing God speaks (that is to say, whatever God wills is the only source of all that is). Jesus didn’t have to reach out and take what the devil offered, he already possessed it. Even in the temptation he was strengthened and then refreshed by God’s provision. All was given to him. Adam, likewise, was to bask in the delightsome task God had given him, fully provided for in all aspects of the life he had been given to live to the full. Jesus for the joy set before him endured the cross. What he was given to do is what he did. Calvin rejected the idea that man could in any way, even in his innocence, do anything to merit anything so as to ascend to heaven. And Scripture affirms that no man ascends to heaven so as to bring Christ down, for the only one who can ascend is the one who descended.

Calvin rejected any sense in which there was more than one mediator between God and man. It is simply a usurpation of the eternality of the Mediatorial office to propose another could procure life to Jesus’ offspring, which are not of the flesh, but of the Spirit. Jesus understood that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Why can’t those who believe in a CoW? Calvin characterized the distinction between the first and last Adam as one of kind, not of covenantal equality. The first he denotes as one who is the head of the family of living souls, that is of the flesh. The other, a life-giving spirit, the head of a family which is of the Spirit, born from above, not of the offspring of man, not of the works of man’s hands, not of blood, not of bloods, but of God. In other words, Jesus didn’t fulfill a covenant of works given to the first Adam: 1) there wasn’t one; 2) he came to fulfill another covenant altogether, which the covenants, where they really are covenants, are only positive or negative types, not their anti-type or in any sense the substance of it.

Jesus is not a priest after the order of man, anyway, as the works covenants require, but after a heavenly order, which is the meaning of the Melchizedek priesthood. Which brings up another thing. There are two essentially different covenants in the OT; one which requires man’s efforts, another which is done solely for man unilaterally by God. There is no priesthood in the Garden. The first priest is Abel. He is the first to offer acceptable sacrifice. As such, he is both prophet and priest. His sacrifice is offered in type as one given by God (see Isaac’s ram substitute) contrasted with Cain’s which is typologically a works centered sacrifice and rejected. Abel’s priesthood was like that of John the baptist’s which pointed to Jesus’ priesthood. It doesn’t come through the law. All men’s priest works are sacrifices which come through the law and are rejected by God as insufficient to give life:

“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law…And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”

The law is not incompatible with the promise. It points to it, but it is not the promise. Indeed the latter establishes the first in that it is the substance of the first. But not ever vice verse. In these unequivocal statements, Scripture denies any place for the law being a means to life. All human priest works can do is type, or sign, but they can not ever perform the thing which they point to. And also,

“for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law,”

There was no law. To make the first prohibition a law conflates the meaning of what is later used to distinguish the punishment of transgression, with something which has universal, eternal overtures. Namely, that the divine nature expressed in the image of man is not properly law external. Strictly, God is not holy by law, but nature, so also was man in that image made, not subject to the external, but by the nature written in the heart. Violence done to that holiness is not by law, as it were, but an offense against his being, that is the substance of what is signified. As we read elsewhere, fornication is not a sin outside, but one committed in one’s body. The violence done is done without the law by nature. Indeed, the gentiles who do not have the law when they act according to it prove that the law is written in their heart. Meaning that the essence of law is what exists by nature without the law. The law coming after the offense demonstrates that the essential nature of the offence is not according to the law, rather, the law was given because of transgression demonstrating that transgression is of nature. Transgression is not the result, it does not derive from the establishing of the code, rather the essence of the transgression stands transcendent prior to the code. The law is given so that sin can be put on full display for what it is:

Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.

Where there is no law there is no law covenant… at least in Scripture’s account of the world of men. For covenants among men require such, as Hebrews says, and are sealed with an oath. With the covenant made to Abraham, which is the subject of Hebrews, it is a covenant which was not made with man, but is much higher, and so requires God to swear by God:

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.

In relation to the true covenant made before time, the law can only point to, not establish the reality of it. In other words, even if a covenant was made in the Garden, it could never realize the thing which came before it. As 2 Corinthians 3:6 says, the first covenant was of the letter and brought death contrasted with the new covenant which brought life. Eternal life is granted according to the priesthood of Melchizedek, which was before anything existed and continues forever. Our lesson of Melchizedek is that it is a type of the priesthood above and before any covenant made with man. It is the same covenant carried out by similitude. It is a covenant carried out before there is a child, e.g., Levi the type of the Law. It was a covenant carried out before Adam. For Adam had a beginning. A covenant with Adam would have to be of the same nature, not by works, but by the calling of God, without beginning and without end. In other words, if it was, it was a gift and if a gift, not earned, nor could it be annulled for it endures forever. But Adam had a beginning and an end, and if he was in covenant, it had a beginning and an end, and it doesn’t even stand as a type. Beside, the Eternal Priesthood of Christ is not shared with any. No other priest could do what he could being that he was not born according to the flesh, but conceived by the Spirit. His inheritance comes by relationship to the Father, not by works, but through Sonship, and that of a unique, one of a kind. Adam was a living soul, Christ, like his Father, a life-giving spirit. That is the contrast of Romans 5. One is from below, and one from above. The one from below could never rise above itself. Only he who came down, could return to his beginning. The last Adam, and he alone, could give to his offspring what was his by nature. As it is written, in him alone is eternal life.

Covenants, humanly speaking, have their basis of authority in written ordinances. We cannot say against Scripture that there was law where it says there was no law. Still, death came by transgression. It was not of a diminutive covenant between God and man, then, but a much higher offense against the eternality of the Holiness of God. Jesus’ sacrifice, likewise, is of a totally different priesthood, and a totally different kind, of a different reality, of which Adam could only have been a type, anyway. Abel, likewise was merely a type, not the forerunner, and his sacrifice was only a type and so far removed from the reality that Hebrews declares that such covenantal sacrifices could never satisfy even the demands of the law, as is demonstrated by the fact that they must be repeated. Which is why we see the covenants under the curse, being repeated. They cannot perform the substance to which they point. If they couldn’t supererogate the law, they surely could not satisfy the demands of the eternal holiness of God. From Abel forward, there is an unbroken chain of symbolic performances which have no efficacy because they are earthly and not from heaven. The work Jesus did, could only be done by The One, and only once could it be done. That was the Covenant of Redemption made before time. As the fulfilling of the perfect covenant, he accomplishes it as both the maker of it and its perfecter. Otherwise, if he completes the “Adamic” covenant, his sacrifice is no better than that of animals. We read that Christ’s was, and remains the only efficacious sacrifice by the nature of the who he is and how it was offered. All covenants made between God and man are outside, but the One made the covenant within himself and keeps by himself. As such, human priests can offer nothing. Even if Adam could have offered a necessary obedience, i.e., a priestly sacrifice, it would have fallen light-years short of the mark. Human priests’ sacrifices can only point to the one source of life which ever has been, and that, as given only by God’s voluntary condescension in creation. Or, given in recreation. The offense which brought death is so far above the violation of any convenantal arrangement between God and man, that it required a solution of an entirely different kind. Not one of bulls and goats, but a body which is from God, as God, sacrificed by God. A sharp contrast with works, then, is the covenant of grace. Far from being a violation of a so called creation covenant, the violation of grace was the creation’s violation of the creator’s being. It is then, only within the one violated to grant life to him who is guilty of taking life.

Jesus’ kingship, likewise, is of a different order, he being the King of Glory, eternally. It is a kingship again, contrasting David with Saul, which has its origin in eternity and bears no resemblance to the kingships of men. The first kingship we see among God’s people is one of their desire, not his. Meaning simply, that the works Jesus came to do, his kingship and his other roles also, were of such a different order that He alone, being who he was, could grant eternal life. Jesus, the King Eternal, known by prophecy to be the One who would occupy David’s seat eternally, was the King upon the throne long before David was conceived. Thus David call’s him Lord. It is not David’s seat that Jesus ascends to, but Jesus’ seat which David ascended to, as Ephesians says of all who are the blessed according to promise and not by law. The offense of wanting a king like men have was against God’s being. He said, that the people did not reject Samuel, but himself as King. Jesus came to be who he was. For this purpose he said he was born. And that kingship was not of this world, for his kingdom was not of this world. He was not another king David, a second one like a first. Jesus was uniquely The King, as in one of a kind, who knit David’s life together in the womb to become a king, so as to proclaim the One who came before him, the only begotten Son of God, the Eternal King of Glory.

It is to that reality which Calvin speaks, elevating the Mediatorial role of Christ beyond the bounds of earth, contrasting the man of dust who could produce only after his kind, with the one who created that kind out of the dust, and who creates a new kind after himself. Jesus is the firstfruits of an entirely different kind. As he was not of the earth, they are not of the earth, so John declares. He is from above, of heaven, the eternal progenitor, who begets children according to the Spirit, born from above. So it is said that eternal life is in him alone and is not by law, that is, it is not by works of an earthly sort, not the works of men’s hands. It never was, and never could be attained to, it can only be given. If another could have performed what he did, he would not have been called the Only Begotten Son of God, the only acceptable sacrifice whose blood speaks of better covenant, a covenant not of this world, one made in heaven before time, and kept by his power alone, a covenant made by an oath between the Father and the Son. And not only that, but seeing there is no one else to swear to, seeing he is not just man, but God, his covenant is with himself. Jesus did not come as another Adam, but the last Adam, the only Son given as the father of the everlasting (Isaiah 9:6), the progenitor of a new generation, a new kind. He did not swear an oath with man, but it says:

“For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation… We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek… And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’”

The covenant, the only one that matters, is the oath made before all time by God with God. Even if it were the case that a covenant with the first Adam as a first priest was made, it was made without such an oath. But, even at that, as Scripture notes, that which was established later does not annul that which came before. It is the Eternal Covenant, the ever new Covenant, which matters, even if there were a CoW in the Garden.

This we should understand. Jesus is the sole true heir of the Kingdom. Not as if it were that it was not always his. As the only true Son, the Seed, who was and is and ever will be, the Kingdom belongs to him, the King of kings, from beginning to end the same. Which is to say there is no other king but he. There is no other priest but he, there is no other prophet but he. It is not beecause he earned it, but because he is the King Eternal, The High Priest, and The Prophet. The rest of the heirs are not parties in the agreement. They are made beneficiaries to it, much like those who do not engage in will and testament making, but are the heirs of the estate of one who dies as being account in him. Heirs, in the latter sense do not make a covenant with the testator, nor he with them. An heir does not typically. Which set the New Covenant apart as unique, for this Covenant was made with the heir. A will is made between the testator and the magistrate, often prior to the existence of any heir or heirs. The magistrate attests to the will and may appoint a trustee. In this case the testator is Jesus, who is also the true Heir in whom all the trust rights resolve. He is also the trustee, acting on the part of the testator and the magistrate to execute the terms of the will and to keep it for them. As the trustee of the estate, he is the guarantor of the benefits, also. Tying this to the essence of law, it is not the law that makes one husband and wife, but God who joins them. Which is why man cannot undo it. The testimony to the essence follows, it does not precede the essence. The will and testament of Christ is of his essence, of his substance, as the Son. Of that will and testament, he makes us partakers by the Holy Spirit. We do not partake of his essence, but we receive all the benefits of it as if true sons by virtue of the execution of that will through which we have been made joint heirs by adoption. As brothers to our elder brother to whom the estate falls, we share like Joseph’s brothers, kept by our Joseph, Jesus Christ. Like Jesus, Joseph is buried figuratively and resurrected and goes ahead to prepare a place of rest where he brings his brothers and shares the kingdom with them. In Joseph alone do the promises reside. And in him are the benefits which belong to all those he calls to live with him.

It is why Jesus is called the Lamb of God slain before time, because in him alone is eternal life. It is he alone who has been granted the right to give it to whom he wills, not according to works, but by grace established before any man existed. It is in him alone where all the benefits are. Also, it is in him, as the first of a kind, that all his seed share in his inheritance. It wasn’t something he had to earn, but by nature of who he is and the relationship he had with his Father, it is his. It is not something which the children can earn, as it is written, it is the parent who gives an inheritance to his children. John 17 records it was a work given, with rewards given, with children given. The work doesn’t earn the gift, it is the gift. It is a gift passed from Father to Son, to sons. A father’s works are passed along in terms of some thing which is representative of the father. The gift of the Son was the foundation of why he makes a covenant with Abraham. A wise man who gives an inheritance to his children’s children describes what the inter-trinitarian covenant was about. The father gave sons to the Son by virtue of progeneration, not by works. Which by extension meant that the gift is to Abraham and his descendants, so that the children and the children’s children, are counted in the Melchizedek covenant (which we have just seen); it is a covenant made before time, through a priest, king, and prophet, without beginning or ending, who begets children of his own kind. So it is appropriate that the covenant is extended to the heirs of it through the Heir, just as it is said that in a way Levi paid taxes through Abraham though Levi was yet in the loins of Abraham. It is not that there are two covenants, but that that first one is executed in favor of those who a members of it, so that God is said to make a covenant with Abraham and his children, and his children’s children, all of whom are in the loins, so to speak, of the Son.

Contrasted to this, if continuity is desired in such a way that a covenant of works is necessary in the Garden, covenants with man are demonstrated, throughout Scripture, as those which could never give life. Despite the claim that some would make that there is a distinction between the law of the curse given with penalties which is slavish, and the law of the Garden which was not, the distinction is strained to the breaking point. For both contain penalties with burdens of proof. Quite contrary, is it not, to the reading of the creation narrative with its picture of the blessed estate and the perfected presentation of a good creation abundantly provided without such cares? Indeed, it would seem, that if God created man and placed him in a Garden with a covenant of works, the burden of performance always swung overhead like the sword of Damocles. It was no Garden, it was a jungle nightmare.

What is eternal life, anyway? Scripture declares Jesus to be the source of life. It does not matter if it is life which in the beginning could be lost, or that life given through the new birth which cannot be. The life we have and the life to come are created things, and by definition, temporal. Christ alone is the author of life. The life we have and the life which is to come is just life. What makes the difference is that our new life in Christ is sealed to us by the Holy Spirit which he gives, not according to works but according to the promise. It is the sealing of life to us which makes it eternal seeing that eternality can only be properly assigned to God. Life is still, in essence, nothing more than life. The life Adam had he could lose, it was not anything he could gain. It was, as Calvin said, what he was given. Even if he had ascended to heaven and eternally sealed, what man has and will have is by providence, the gift of God. And here is the catch. What God gives is perfect, doing what it was meant to do. Adam did not, nor could he have, withstood the temptation of the enemy. It was not given to him to be able to do so. If he could not withstand, how then could he have stood? The new life we have been granted in Christ is something which he has guaranteed by oath with the Father. We do not stand by ourselves, neither could Adam. As it was in the beginning, so it will be in the end; the only source, the only means of attaining to life, is who it has always been and shall ever be, God alone. Who can merit eternal life? Jesus said it was impossible with man. Now, some will say that is the truth after the fall. But, stop. If life is a gift to begin with and man can only stand in it where God seals it to him, and eternal life is a free gift, just what is it that man could ever earn without first being sealed? To the enquiry, Jesus said sell it all. It cannot be bought by any merit of any kind.

I have written here on Calvin and the covenant of works.

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