From DGH on Can Humans Merit Before God Submitted on 2015 04 21 at 5:22 pm


For the sake of your congregation, the PCA, the Alliance — not to mention yourself — please don’t write part 2. Do you really want to position yourself as Norman Shepherd 2.0? Aside from all that you’ve already written about the parallels among Adam, Christ, and us, and how we all — without sufficient qualification — graciously obtain God’s favor through good works, you now appear to be headed to the no-man’s land of Norman Shepherdville:

In other words, in order to keep the Adam-Christ parallels, we must not actually abandon the concept of grace given to them both, but actually affirm it. It has been a peculiar oddity that some assume that the parallels between the two Adams means that Adam could not have received the grace of God because Christ did not. But this view is based on the fatal assumption that God was not gracious to Christ in any sense.

David VanDrunen, in criticizing Norman Shepherd’s rejection of merit in the Garden of Eden, makes the following claim:

“It is not difficult to see how such a view, if taken seriously, makes belief in Christ’s active, imputed obedience impossible. If image bearers do not merit anything before God, then the true image bearer, Christ, did not merit anything before God, and his perfect obedience can hardly be reckoned ours as the basis for our justification” (CJPM, 51).

This paragraph by Professor VanDrunen will give me an opportunity in the next post to examine more carefully – I trust, in an irenic tone – some of his claims from a historical and biblical perspective.

But it is interesting to me that some recent defences of justification seem to approach the topic somewhat differently than what I find in the Early Modern era when it comes to merit and the Edenic context for Adam’s obedience.

The thing is, Mark, a historian knows the difference between the present and the past. And in the present Norman Shepherd has received round rejections from the Reformed churches. Just listen to the RCUS:

The whole crux of the matter is that Shepherd robs the gospel of good news. How can a man be justified before God? The good news is that Christ’s righteousness, namely, His perfect obedience and sacrifice upon the cross for the sins of His people, is freely imputed by God to all who receive Christ by faith alone, trusting in his saving work on their behalf. By fulfilling the law and suffering its curse, Christ obtains righteousness and eternal life as a free gift for His people.

Now, Mr. Shepherd, if Christ fully satisfied the justice of God and appeased God’s wrath against my sin, then what act of obedience would you have me do, or what act of disobedience would you have me avoid, in order to escape God’s wrath? The Bible says that the only means of escape is to reach out the empty hand of faith and receive the gracious gift. Yes, Mr. Shepherd, all it takes is a simple act of faith. ‘The vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus forgiveness receives.’ Yes, Mr. Shepherd, salvation and justification do in fact take place at a certain point in
time – the moment a person believes! “Verily, verily, I say to you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). “And the publican, … saying, God be merciful to me a
sinner! I tell you, this man went down to his house justified”! (Luke 18:13-14). “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”! (Acts 16:30-31). “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 9:13).
Justification does not take place at any other time than the first appearance of genuine faith in the human heart.

. . . Therefore, the question is this: Is justification by faith alone apart from obedience the one true gospel or is it not? John Murray believed that “it makes void the gospel to introduce works in connection with justification.”194 For precisely this reason, Calvin (and Luther too!) called the doctrine of justification by faith alone “the main hinge on which religion turns.”195 Turretin termed it “the principal rampart of the Christian religion. This being adulterated or subverted, it is impossible to retain purity of doctrine in other places. Hence Satan in every way has endeavored to corrupt this doctrine in all ages, as has been done especially by the papacy.”196 Take note: deny justification by faith alone, and it is impossible to retain purity of doctrine in other places! It is a downward slide.

If the RCUS is not good enough for you, how about your own organization, the Alliance, a parachurch agency that launched its existence precisely because justification by faith alone (read Norman Shepherd) was on the ropes. Thanks to the nifty new device that has made available, I can find the Cambridge Declaration of 1996 that spawned ACE. It includes the following:

Justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. This is the article by which the church stands or falls. Today this article is often ignored, distorted or sometimes even denied by leaders, scholars and pastors who claim to be evangelical. Although fallen human nature has always recoiled from recognizing its need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, modernity greatly fuels the fires of this discontent with the biblical Gospel. We have allowed this discontent to dictate the nature of our ministry and what it is we are preaching.

Many in the church growth movement believe that sociological understanding of those in the pew is as important to the success of the gospel as is the biblical truth which is proclaimed. As a result, theological convictions are frequently divorced from the work of the ministry. The marketing orientation in many churches takes this even further, erasing the distinction between the biblical Word and the world, robbing Christ’s cross of its offense, and reducing Christian faith to the principles and methods which bring success to secular corporations.

While the theology of the cross may be believed, these movements are actually emptying it of its meaning. There is no gospel except that of Christ’s substitution in our place whereby God imputed to him our sin and imputed to us his righteousness. Because he bore our judgment, we now walk in his grace as those who are forever pardoned, accepted and adopted as God’s children. There is no basis for our acceptance before God except in Christ’s saving work, not in our patriotism, churchly devotion or moral decency. The gospel declares what God has done for us in Christ. It is not about what we can do to reach him.

Thesis Four: Sola Fide

We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice.

We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.

I wonder, the way you are headed, if you can affirm what the Alliance does. I sure hope so. But your constant toying with a doctrine that stands at the center of the gospel leads me to think the RCUS’ words to Norman Shepherd might apply to you:

Does Shepherd Jones really want to maintain that the fathers of the reformation, who together wrote the Protestant Creeds, along with all their spiritual sons, men like Turretin, Hodge, Berkhof, and John Murray, have all misread Scripture and have all misunderstood the doctrine of justification by faith alone?

Those of us who read you fear that the answer is yes.


91 thoughts on “From DGH on Can Humans Merit Before God Submitted on 2015 04 21 at 5:22 pm

  1. The problem with your argument is that the premise: “hypothetical Adamic merit must be affirmed in order to consistently hold to justification by faith alone” is not true. That’s what Jones is demonstrating with his quotes.

    What your quotes are trying to do is smear him with the implication that he is on the road to heresy. That simply doesn’t follow from the argument.Penal substitutionary atonement requires perfect and infinite satisfaction. That is something a mere human no matter how obedient or sinless could deliver. It’s something that only the real, infinite, and perfect merit of Jesus could obtain.


  2. And right on cue, ontological impossiblility shows up. Yo Brian, Jones has been looking for this fight long before Darryl had anything to say. There are more than a few of us who can read. Thus, the readers comment. But puritans…………..


  3. For the simple minded, would you guys mind making explicit how ‘the way he (Jones) is headed in’ might lead to a denial of justification by faith alone?


  4. Mark Jones—If grace is defined simply as God’s favor in the place of demerit, then it doesn’t make much sense to speak of God showing grace to Adam in Eden. But that definition of grace is, I believe, wrong-headed because Christ received God’s grace. Christ was, unlike Adam, able to merit before God; but Christ was also endowed with the habits of grace in order to keep the terms of the covenant.”

    The OPC Report on Philippians 2 (lines 796 ff)— Federal Vision proponents have argued that this passage actually rules out the notion of merit in regard to Christ’s obedience, because in 2:9 Paul uses the word echarisato, which etymologically derives from the word for “grace,” charis, to describe God’s giving the name above every name to Christ. This indicates, they claim, that the Father exalted the Son not meritoriously but graciously.This argument as it stands fails, however. One reason it fails is its fallacious reasoning that etymological derivation determines the meaning of a word apart from context. The context of Phil 2:5- 11 shows that MERIT CANNOT BE ELIMINATED from Paul’s teaching here. The context is one of “work rendered and value received.”The Father exalted the Son because the Son perfectly fulfilled his course of obedience. The Son obeyed, therefore the Father exalted him.


  5. Mark Jones—-“The original covenant made with Adam was gracious, even though it was also a covenant of works/life (so Ursinus). Reformed theologians in the seventeenth century generally did not see works as opposed to grace in God’s covenantal dealings with Adam and Eve.”

    Mark Karlberg—“Denial of the tutelary works-inheritance principle functioning within the Mosaic economy (properly restricted to the typological, earthly sphere of life in Canaan) not only entails a blatant misreading of the Old and New Testaments, but also the imposition of an erroneous interpretation of the covenants spanning pre-redemptive and redemptive history. At issue also is a faulty conception of the principle of federal headship pertaining to the First and Second Adams.”

    MK– “The idea of meritorious reward in the Covenant of Works, that is, reward based upon Adam’s fulfillment of the requirement of God’s law (whereby human obedience earns the blessing of God after a period of probationary testing), is essential for maintaining the parallel drawn by the apostle Paul with respect to the two Adams. The reward that would have been granted by God to Adam, had he fulfilled his covenantal, legal obligation, would obviously not have been won by a substitutionary, divine representative as is the case in the Covenant of Grace (wherein the exclusive ground of eternal life is the perfect righteousness of Christ, the Second Adam, imputed to the elect). ”

    MK—“Inheritance by works – contrasting with inheritance by grace – is required by God’s covenantal law first given to humankind; entailed here is the crucial Law / Gospel antithesis. Discussion within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and elsewhere, will not advance until the Shepherd-Gaffin heterodoxy is clearly and honestly identified – and decisively excised. Instead of majoring on the minor (what I have identified above as the “secondary element” in the doctrine of the Covenant of Works, namely, construal of God’s covenantal reward for obedience as a gift of grace, rather than meritorious accomplishment on the part of the First Adam, had he kept God’s command), full attention must be directed to Gaffin’s repudiation of the classic Protestant-Reformed law / grace contrast. To do anything less is to obscure and cover over what is central in this four-decade-old controversy regarding justification by faith.”

    Mk—“Biblically defined, the term “grace” – fundamental and all-determinative in this dispute – refers exclusively to sovereign, electing grace (“saving” grace, the only grace to which the Bible refers). Application of this term as a qualification for the way in which Adam would have received the consummate blessing of God and reward for successful completion of probation under the original Covenant of Works (before Adam’s fall into sin) has proved not only to be confusing, but has opened the door to erroneous interpretation of the two-fold covenants (Works and Grace). ”


  6. Pastor Mark Jones would like to thank all of the “amateur” theologians who have helped him understand these things better.

    Wonder what qualifies one to be a “professional” theologian?


  7. Brian, so Adam had no chance. God gave Adam some grace. Then God withdrew that grace and Adam fell.

    Yes, you’re in the ballpark of orthodoxy — on Mars.


  8. Paul, first Jones says Jesus has faith and does works the way we should. Then he says that Adam has grace the way Jesus did. Then he says that we should be afraid if we don’t do good works.

    Looks to me like Jones hasn’t taken a course on the four-fold state of man, which is the superstructure for understanding human nature, sin, and salvation.


  9. Paul: For the simple minded, would you guys mind making explicit how ‘the way he (Jones) is headed in’ might lead to a denial of justification by faith alone?

    So this is not a charge in Jones’ direction, but a general answer.

    The problem with mixing grace into works in the Garden is that it ends up mixing works into grace in our salvation.

    It is for this reason that the classical two-fold covenant took great pains to distinguish between the Covenant of Works for Adam and the Covenant of Grace. The covenant of works proceeded on the principle of reward on the ground of obedience. The covenant of grace proceeds on the principle of reward earned by another and received by faith.

    It was admitted by all that the “merit” in the CoW was not strict merit, but merit pactum, a meriting according to the terms of the promise.

    So what happens if we go one step further and assert that “merit pactum” was in fact “grace” since the reward of eternal life was disproportionate to the command? What happens is that we begin to argue that a works principle can coexist with a grace principle. And from there, we can begin to argue that the works of believers can merit “according to a principle of grace.”

    If you recognize in that formulation an echo of the Catholic teaching (“The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace. “, CCC 2011), then you can see the problem. In order to preserve sola fide, it is necessary to clearly distinguish works from grace, which in turn entails that we need to distinguish Adam’s situation from ours. This was the universal practice of 16th and 17th century Reformed theologians as far as I know.


  10. Jeff, I understand the concept of pactum merit, but what rules out strict merit in the edenic cov. particularly when demerit ‘merits’ eternal torment. We’ve never been under compulsion to argue an absolutely free God, so, once he creates Imago Dei and crowns it with sabbatical enthronement upon successful probation who is to say the reward is NOT commensurate with the deed and the Imago Dei creation? God can, in fact, and is, in fact, indebted to his own justice, right?


  11. @ Sean:

    Somehow, “Don’t eat the fruit” and “the reward is eternal life” seem disproportionate.


  12. Jeff, somehow that seems as if we substitute our own sensibility for God’s. There’s a way which seems right and all that jazz. But, maybe if we look at it through the lens of prophet, priest and king, and Eden as temple, and of course eternal torment as the reward of disobedience maybe the proportionality starts to come into view. Then there’s the whole second adam construct, and Heb 4 to reconcile.


  13. Jeff, but is the promise of life based only on “not eating?” What about all the obedience of the law as written on his heart? The “not eating” focussed the entire law in one command as a test of obedience, yet it wasn’t apart from the entire law. Could Adam have shined on other law-keeping and just not eat of the forbidden tree and still receive life? Thinking of Jesus’s words to the rich young ruler regarding how one is to obtain eternal life.


  14. Jeff, what if eternal life is not contemplating the incommunicable attributes of God but simply carrying on in the garden, cultivating the asparagus and caring for the cats?


  15. Lee Irons—“if we eliminate all ontological …considerations from the outset of our discussion of justice and merit, and define remunerative justice as being revealed only through the covenant and qualified by the limitations placed upon it by all the divine attributes, then we will have avoided the specter of grace in the covenant of works.”

    Lee Irons—- “The distance between God and the creature is so great….” Is there not a hidden premise that human works, if viewed according to the strict standard of an ontologically defined justice, are intrinsically disproportionate to the prospect of enjoying God in eternal blessedness? It seems that the covenant is being introduced to overcome the awesome metaphysical chasm between God and the creature in order to make possible that which would otherwise be impossible — man putting an infinite, a se God in debt by a finite obedience. It presupposes an ontological scheme of moral valuation which places God and the creature on opposite ends of the scale of being.

    Lee Irons— “Kline rejects the voluntarist position that all merit is based upon God’s gracious condescension to make himself a debtor to man’s finite works…. The voluntarist definition of merit presupposes that ‘a distinction is to be made between the inherent value of a moral act and its ascribed value under the terms of the covenant.’ The covenant becomes a way, therefore, of circumventing strict justice, making possible the arbitrary acceptance as meritorious of that which is not actually meritorious….Grace inevitably enters the definition of congruous merit”.

    Lee Irons—“Covenant is not a voluntary condescension of divine grace but a revelation of divine justice.”


  16. @ Chris (and sean):

    I’m between two stools in trying to respond. On the one hand, the distinction between strict merit and merit pactum is an old one, and I’m hardly the first person to observe that eternal life could not be strictly merited by Adam.

    On the other, I am in basic agreement with where I think you want to go, which is to observe that if God says X is worth Y, then X is worth Y.

    One step beyond that would then be to observe that perhaps there is no such thing as “intrinsic worth” outside of the worth that God assigns. Paging Cornelius van Til.

    And in that case, we arrive at the conclusion that merit pactum is all that there ever is.

    The big question is then, How do we describe the difference between what Christ merited and what Adam could have merited?


  17. Jeff, I’m too tired to go look but the promise of eternal rest(sabbatical enthronement) is the end of the design. Adam failed to merit it, Christ merits it for his elect. I’m sure we can talk about the much more of the gift, but the end is still the same. And I still get hung up on what demerit earns and the proportionality that argues.


  18. Exactly, Jeff. How can anyone know what a good work is “intrinsically worth”? Isn’t it necessarily on the order of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin,” if it is not revealed in God’s self-disclosure?

    We (rightly) infer that Adam could have merited heaven because we have no reason to think that God was insincere in Genesis 1 and 2 – and because of the way Paul compares and contrasts Adam and Christ in Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15 – and even Ephesians 5:22-33. But based on those passages, I’m not sure I agree with the premise of your question. Christ accomplished what Adam should have, but did not. If you want to say that Adam would have earned something less that what Christ did – or that Adam’s merit would have been more, say, congruent – then I just don’t know how to make sense out of Paul’s comparisons and contrasts. I think they only make sense if the kind of covenant, as well as the blessings, curses and rewards were he same.


  19. Jeff, Mark and D.G. – thanks, that clears things up a lot and puts things into perspective for me.

    From my reading of the Reformed, it seems that they viewed what Adam would have merited as ‘pactum merit’, not ‘condign merit’ – is this correct? If not, what is the historic Reformed view?

    Rev Lane Keister of the PCA:
    ‘Most Reformed scholars agree that had Adam obeyed in the Garden of Eden, he would have obtained eternal life on the basis of pactum merit. It does not correspond in quality to eternal life because Adam owed all his obedience already. It does not correspond in quantity either, since an infinite amount of righteousness would be required. However, God bound Himself, by agreement, to give Adam eternal life if Adam obeyed.’


  20. D. G. Hart
    Posted April 21, 2015 at 10:00 pm | Permalink
    Jeff, what if eternal life is not contemplating the incommunicable attributes of God but simply carrying on in the garden, cultivating the asparagus and caring for the cats?

    Exactly. God is merciful and did not create any of his children just to suffer for all eternity.

    That’s hell, Mr. Elect. Plus there will be computers and an Old Life blog there, and you can congratulate each other about how wonderful you all are for all eternity.

    Asparagus and cats. Plus that dreadful music you people think God likes. You poor bastards.


  21. If God could accept Adam’s creaturely and finite merit as basis for the reward of eternal life; and Israel’s fallen, demerited obedience as basis for temporal blessings; why did Christ have to be the God-Man, offering infinite, perfect, personal, perpetual obedience to merit salvation for the elect? Why couldn’t God have just said to an ordinary man-mediator: offer sincere obedience and the elect will be saved?

    Jack, MM- quoting that fugitive from justice Lee Irons doesn’t help your case.


  22. dgh—first Mark Jones says Jesus has faith and does works the way we should. Then he says that Adam has grace the way Jesus did. Then he says that we should be afraid if we don’t do good works.

    But not all of us sinners do so many good works as snipers (on the higher ground) like Rick Phillips, who writes: “I found Mark Jones’ discussion of merit so helpful. The followers of Meredith Kline, with whom Mark is debating, have a particular understanding of covenantal merit that differs from other schemes of merit in the history of theology. Here, Mark seems to occupy the high ground when we note how our Standards use this well-debated term.

    Rick p— Westminster Larger Catechism 55 states that Christ intercedes for us “in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth.” So we may speak of Christ’s merit on our behalf as our mediator. But when it comes to the merit on the creature’s part before God, the Confession speaks in exclusively negative terms. WCF 7:1 says that while man owed obedience to God, “yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward,” so that “man’s enjoyment of God is not a matter of inherent right or merit but of condescension on God’s part.” Notice that this exclusion of human merit pertains to pre-Fall Adam as well as to post-Fall sinful humans.

    Rick P: I do realize that Kline’s view of covenantal merit seeks to place the concept within the “voluntary condescension on God’s part” that is spoken of in that paragraph. I would note, however, that… the Confession isolates “grace” to a strictly post-Fall scenario,”
    – See more at:…/grace-the-two-covenants


  23. Paul,

    That quote from Keister shows where the “grace” comes in. You might not wanna call it grace, you might want to stick with the WCF’s language of “voluntary condescension” and you might wanna also say they don’t mean the same thing. That’s fine. Kline rejected the WCF; his followers reject the WCF: don’t you do it as well.

    What Keister is saying is that if God had not entered into a covenant with Adam after creating him, a covenant arrangement which provided for the reward of eternal life if Adam obeyed, then Adam would not have merited eternal life by his obedience. Some people on this forum and elsewhere seem to think Adam and God were equal beings but they weren’t and that’s why the ontological considerations are so necessary. Adam and Christ are not equal: one is man, one is God. There’s a difference.


  24. Chris/Sean,

    God cannot say something is holy which is not holy. Actually, God cannot just do anything, even if it contradicts who He is. He is bound by His own holiness and justice. These are absolute attributes. Ergo, God cannot accept the works of fallen sinners as if they were holy. He accepts the good works of regenerate men as works of gratitude and only through faith in Christ; He does not accept them as works which merit salvation.

    Ergo, God could not say to Adam, who was a finite creature: your good works, though perfect, merit eternal life. Because, performed by a finite creature, they did not have infinite worth and so could not earn infinite (eternal) life. That’s if God were judging the works on their own terms.

    If, however, He chose in His kindness, goodness, benevolence, condescension to accept these works within a covenant framework as meriting eternal life, He could do that. And that’s what He did. After He created Adam. He wasn’t saying that Adam’s obedience (which he owed by virtue of being a creature, regardless of the outcome) in and of itself merited eternal life, but only as God, condescending to Adam’s infinitely inferior position, chose to accept them. This way God can maintain His justice and reward Adam because Adam was “endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness” with the power to fulfill the law perfectly.

    So it’s important to remember that Adam was performing perfect works. It wasn’t a case of God choosing to accept the works of demerited sinners (such as man post-fall) as fulfilling the law. Adam could truly obey the law perfectly. And God condescended to accept the perfect obedience of a finite creature as meriting eternal life. The difference between Adam and Christ is that not only could Christ perfectly obey the law as Adam could, his obedience had infinite worth.

    So God cannot simply say X is Y and that means X is Y. God cannot say something which is unholy is holy and He cannot say that something which is not of infinite worth has infinite worth.


  25. @Alexander

    Jack, MM- quoting that fugitive from justice Lee Irons doesn’t help your case.
    Real nice.

    “All synods or councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred.”

    If that vote had been held today it would have turned out differently… Not just my opinion.


  26. Alexander, I understand the argument. I just merely disagree. I think you read in extra-biblical categories in order to make your argument. I think the otherside undersells Imago Dei creation, fails to reckon adequately with the proportionality of the outcome of demerit and inadequately explains sabbatical enthronement as sign and design in both the edenic and NC. I also think, as a protestant, you start to borrow capital from the Romanists when you make ontological arguments of merit and start making assertions about what God can and cannot say as regards what is holy. We do in fact argue the construct you say God can not argue. He declares, holy that which is not ontologically holy in the case of the elect, yet.


  27. Sean,

    If you want to go down that route: when Paul calls the children- all children, it would appear- of believers “holy” are we to take that as all children of believers are inherently regenerate? I think not. We must read that designation of holiness within a covenantal context. When believers are exhorted to be holy, it’s clear the meaning is not perfect holiness because that is not possible this side of heaven. All these designations are made within the framework of the covenant of grace; made in reference to a believer’s union with and faith in Christ. In no place- not even when believer’s are perfectly sanctified in heaven- are a believer’s holiness or righteousness given as a basis for reward, especially salvation.

    With Adam it’s different: his obedience was the basis for his salvation (again, though, only within a covenant framework). It’s ironic to be accused of borrowing capital from the Romanists when it’s precisely your line of argument which leads to a works-based righteousness which doesn’t require that the mediator of the covenant of grace actually possess a divine nature. Again, why was Christ necessary? Why not just appoint another mere man to be a mediator if God can do anything He wants?


  28. Alexander, i’m more than familiar with pre and post fall opportunities. You assume the edenic covenantal framework is superimposed upon an inherent/intrinsically deficient creaturely arrangement. I understand the argument, what you don’t want to reconcile to is that’s, your presuppositional medievally informed categories of ontological possibility. Imago Dei creation is crowned with sabbatical enthronement and then it’s reiterated in the mosaic cov and finally, again, in the NC-see Heb 4. So, you want to argue that God didn’t really(ontologically incongruent) hold out the possibility of reward to Adam. Where’s your exegesis? And, again, what of the proportionality of eternal torment for demerit? I don’t believe nor am compelled to reconcile to an unjust or absolutely free God.


  29. Sean,

    But God DID enter into covenant with Adam; He DID provide a means to eternal life! Stop daydreaming and stick to what actually happened. I’m guessing you just learned the word “enthronement” but try to refrain from using it in every sentence.

    And eternal punishment is just because transgression of God’s law demands it.


  30. and still speaking of worship, always so great to be reminded of the goal of theology

    “My concern is the dignity (quality of being worthy, honored, esteemed) of Christ, who alone can merit.”


  31. Alexander, I keep repeating it because I’m trying to get it through your overly thick skull. It’s a trick I learned from the nuns.


  32. Alexander, so how do you get a perfect ordinary man-mediator whose father is the Holy Spirit? In other words, where do you find a perfect man this side of Adam?

    And do you really want to say that Adam had no chance to keep the law because he wasn’t God? Do you really mean to contradict God’s word? Adam was good, not bad.


  33. Alexander, here’s the flaw. Jesus was also finite in addition to being infinite. Do you really deny Jesus’ humanity? It seems like you have something against being human — then again . . . .


  34. Sean,

    The Bible tells me God entered into covenant with Adam after He was created. Otherwise, who was it He took and placed in the Garden of Eden? Who is it He’s speaking to in Genesis 2:16-17?! The Westminster Standards tell me God entered into covenant with Adam after He was created WCF 19:1: God gave to Adam…a covenant of works. Hard to give something to someone who doesn’t exist; someone already has to exist to receive something.

    WSC 12: What special act of providence did God exercise towards man in the estate wherein he was created? A. When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him…

    Seems pretty clear to me.

    Mr. Hart,

    Under the Klinean paradigm, why do you need a perfect man? You and your disciples are all saying that God can say X is Y if he wants to; you say that God could accept fallen Israel’s “sincere obedience” as meritorious; that Adam’s obedience, though that of a finite creature, can be reckoned to have the worth of an infinite being on it’s own terms, nay that God is obligated to accept it as such- all because God is God and what He says goes. Why, then, could He not take an ordinary man and say: your sincere, though imperfect, obedience I will accept for the atonement of the elect?

    Also, I didn’t say Adam couldn’t keep God’s law perfectly. In fact, I went out of my way to say he could. What I actually said was that without God entering into a covenant with Adam- after his creation- and agreeing to reward Adam’s perfect obedience with eternal life, Adam’s perfect obedience would not- in and of itself- merit eternal life. Can you understand that or should I get Lambchop to explain it to you?

    Jesus’ real, human- though glorified- body exists to this day in Heaven. Unless you deny that?


  35. Alexander, where do we know of creation — human and non-human — apart from covenant? You’re basing your argument on something that doesn’t exist — humanity outside the covenant.

    Maybe on Mars . . .


  36. Alex, Jesus was unequal as a human. Your stamping your foot doesn’t make less true the notion that cosmological gap exists between God and humanity. That mars (not the planet) Jesus.

    Why do you have such a low view of God’s creation?


  37. Alexander: That quote from Keister shows where the “grace” comes in. You might not wanna call it grace, you might want to stick with the WCF’s language of “voluntary condescension” and you might wanna also say they don’t mean the same thing. That’s fine.

    Yes, that’s precisely it. They don’t mean the same thing, and I would argue that it’s important that they don’t mean the same thing.

    The significance of the difference has to do with Protestant-Catholic polemics. If we say that Adam could have merited, but by grace, then we have great difficulty explaining why the Catholic scheme of meriting, but by grace, is unorthodox.


  38. Alexander: “The Covenant of Grace was a covenant made between equals; the Covenant of Works was not.”

    Hebrews: The Covenant of Grace was a covenant made between equals, not fulfilled without FINITE HUMAN BLOOD.”

    Heb 12:20: “…by the [HUMAN / FINITE / CREATURELY] blood of the eternal covenant.”


  39. Mr. Hart,

    But Christ was never merely human and he was a human person: he was, and is, a divine person with a human and a divine nature, in union, in one person. That’s the point.


    I think the only people who have difficulty understanding that difference are those who seem to have difficulty understanding the necessity of Christ’s active obedience without Adam AND Israel also being expected to obey the law in return for reward. Why Adam’s obedience-merit paradigm isn’t enough I do not know. Sometimes Scripture just ain’t enough for some people, like CW, who certainly doesn’t understand the irony in calling me a jerk.


  40. Brian,

    Do you mean the blood of the infinite divine person that is Christ? That’s why his blood is efficacious.

    Are you agreeing with me or not? Can you get Lampbchop please!

    Also, it’s 13:20.


  41. * But Christ was never merely human and he wasn’t a human person: he was, and is, a divine person…

    And yes, I get the irony of having to correct a mistake after correcting Brian. So sue me!


  42. Alexander, the point is that you diminish Adam’s humanity but give Christ a pass. In the long run, you’re taking issue with God who chose to rest the weight of humanity on little old Adam. Don’t like it? Deny God.


  43. Brian Lee —-Grace Before Fall = Law After Cross ???

    Hebrews 7:12 For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well.

    Hebrews 8: 6 But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second one. 8 But finding fault with His people, He says:

    Look, the days are coming, says the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
    with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah—
    9 not like the covenant
    that I made with their ancestors
    on the day I took them by their hands
    to lead them out of the land of Egypt.

    Hebrews 8:13 By saying, a new covenant, He has declared that the first is old. And what is old and aging is about to disappear.

    Hebrews 9: 15 “Therefore, the Messiah is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called receive the promise of the eternal inheritance, because a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 Where a will exists, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will is valid only when people die, since it is never in force while the one who made it is living. 18 That is why even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood.”

    Hebrews 12: 24–You have come to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel.


  44. Alexander,

    I generally agree with what you’re saying. One tangential (and minor) point,

    You said,

    But Christ was never merely human and he was a *human person*: he was, and is, a *divine person* with a human and a divine nature, in union, in one person. That’s the point.

    Using traditional categories, Christ was *not* a human person and/or a Divine person. That’s Nestorianism. I don’t think you’re trying to affirm Nestorianism, but your language confuses traditional categories. I’m not trying to be “that guy,” but I think we Reformed are sometimes a bit imprecise in our Christology.


  45. Alexander: I think the only people who have difficulty understanding that difference are those who seem to have difficulty understanding the necessity of Christ’s active obedience without Adam AND Israel also being expected to obey the law in return for reward. Why Adam’s obedience-merit paradigm isn’t enough I do not know.

    Humorously enough, I had trouble parsing this sentence.

    There are those who self-identify as Reformed who have trouble understanding the necessity of Christ’s active obedience. Two of those were Gataker and Vines, and it might be that Jones (who cites them approvingly in the linked posts) has a similar scruple. Certainly, many of the Federal Visionaries have a similar scruple.

    So we don’t even need to go to the question of Israel’s status or Adam’s hypothetical merit in order to find trouble. We first find it on the question of the active obedience of Christ. I would hope that you agree that *that* question is the weightiest out of this set?


  46. Brandon,

    So nice to come across a civilised person here.

    I will have to humbly disagree with you. John Brown of Haddington says:

    Q. How many persons hath Christ? A. One only, and which is a divine person. Isaiah 9:6

    Q. What is the difference between a human nature and a human person? A. A human person subsists by itself; but a human nature subsists in a person.

    Q. How can Christ have the nature of man without the person of man? A. Because his human nature never subsisted by itself, but was, in its very formation, assumed into his divine person. John 1:14

    Q. Is Christ then the same person he was from eternity? A. Yes; though a human nature is united to that person.

    -Questions and Answers, p.101 (Reformation Heritage Books)

    But I certainly understand your point.


  47. Actually, it’s the Klineans who have the difficulty. Their whole schtick with Israel being under a covenant of works is because they think it’s necessary to bolster up the necessity of Christ’s obeying the law. It’s not. End of.


  48. Alexander,

    I won’t belabor the point beyond this because I assume that we agree here in substance. Just note that my reservation was in regard to you asserting in the same sentence that Christ was a “human person” as well as a “Divine person.” I’m willing to concede that the person of Christ existed before the hypostatic union, so I don’t object to saying that Christ is a Divine person.

    Note that in your citation, however, Haddington states,

    How can Christ have the nature of man without the person of man?

    In other words, saying Christ is a Divine person and a human person is unconventional. I’m content to leave it here though because as much as I think precision is important, I think we have far too much in agreement to quibble over this language in a thread not focused upon Christology.


  49. Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems to me that MJ is saying the same grace that I receive to live the Christian life is the same grace that Christ received to live the “Christian” life, and is the same grace that Adam received to live out his obedience.

    Am I missing or confusing something here?


  50. Alexander, elaborating on the covenant stipulations is not adding onto a thereunto previously unrecognizable or even non-existent covenant arrangement. You’re gonna love this, God certainly didn’t have to create and not all creation has the same end, but after creating Imago Dei and crowning that creation with sabbatical enthronement (Heb 4), God was INDEBTED to His own justice to deal with that Imago Dei creation in accord with it’s design/end. I’m not required to reconcile to a creator where the ontological distinction is so vast that God is unbound by His own nature in regards to His creation. And then there was the fall.


  51. All, I’m still a little confused as to whether you think that Adam’s reward for obedience would have been ‘pactum merit’? Maybe I’m not getting some of the finer issues you are discussing, but it could it could be that you are going over well-trodden ground in a way which goes over the heads of those looking in…

    I found Rick Phillips’ response to MJ helpful, in refraining from using the term ‘grace’ pre-fall and rather the ‘voluntary condescension’ of the WCF. Are people in agreement with Phillips?


  52. Paul, just as shorthand, ‘pactum merit’ is in play. The argument, as I hear it, in part, is two fold; what was the covenantal nature of the edenic situation and what was the ontological possibility as regarded the Imago Dei creation in regards to strict merit/justice. There’s more going on in the other discussions, but at least that’s where I’m living.


  53. @ Greg: Nice find.

    @ Alex: Actually, it’s the Klineans who have the difficulty.

    I knew that was your point (once I had parsed the sentence correctly), but my point is, Before we get to dinging Klineans for an idiosyncratic take on Israel, let’s talk first about IAOX. Wouldn’t you agree that active obedience is nearer to the heart of the gospel?


  54. Alex: Their whole schtick with Israel being under a covenant of works is because they think it’s necessary to bolster up the necessity of Christ’s obeying the law.

    As a “something close to Klinean”, I would dispute this.

    I would argue that it is Biblically necessary to affirm that Israel was under the Law in a way that NT believers are not. I trust you agree.

    From there, it becomes necessary to clearly understand what “under the Law” precisely means. The pastoral payout here is how to use the OT Law pastorally.

    And that then drives the question of how to understand blessings and curses, which is at the heart of my own take on republication.

    Alex: It’s not. End of.

    If only.


  55. Does Mark Jones care what Westminster Seminary thinks?

    By rejecting the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace as defined in the Westminster Standards, and by failing to take account in the structure of the ‘covenantal dynamic’ of Christ’s fulfillment of the covenant by his active obedience as well as by his satisfaction of its curse, Mr. Shepherd develops a uniform concept of covenantal faithfulness for Adam, for Israel, and for the New Covenant people. The danger is that both the distinctiveness of the covenant of grace and of the new covenant fullness of the covenant of grace will be lost from view and that obedience as the way of salvation will swallow up the distinct and primary function of faith. Obedience is nurtured by faith in Christ and flourishes precisely as we trust wholly in him.


  56. Brandon,

    Ah there’s been a misunderstanding. I made a mistake in that post and corrected it below, which you must have missed. I meant to write that Christ wasn’t a human person but he was/is a divine person. I did NOT mean to write that he was a human and a divine person.


  57. AB – that post by Carl Trueman is great:
    “…There is, however, more to it than the fact that I still have the mind of a seventeen year old schoolboy trapped inside an older but clearly no wiser body. It is that the whole blog phenomenon is inherently ridiculous; that the more serious it tries to be, the more absurd and pompous it becomes; and that I believe that if you can’t beat the inevitable blogological deconstruction, you might as well join it, and that with relish. As the old Buddhist proverb says, `When faced with the inevitable, one must merely accept the inevitable.’…”

    MJ in his second, follow up post, asserts this:
    “Merit must be something that is not owed: Christ freely came to obey in our place, hence it was not owed. Adam did not freely make the decision to place himself under the law of the covenant of works. – See more at:

    Didn’t Adam freely agree to / accept the terms of the covenant of works?

    Boston in the Marrow puts it like this:
    “The covenant being revealed to man created after God’s own image, he could not but perceive the equity and benefit of it; and so heartily approve, embrace, accept, and consent to it. And this accepting is plainly intimated in Eve’s words to the serpent, (Gen 3:2,3), “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”


  58. I do so very much apologize for this completely off topic intrusin, but I don’t know how else to do this. Darryl your gracious indulgence is greatly appreciated. Chris Townsend. Could you please drop me an email? Or provide some other way to contact you? Erik has revised his opinion and therefore interaction policies in my regard yet again. (God love that boy 🙂 )

    I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.
    Thank you


  59. when one posts on a blog, there is a presumption those words will stand, unless told otherwise by the blog owner.

    what erik is doing is very dishonest. he is having people comment, and deleteing entire converstaions of tens and hundreds of comments.

    if this comment stays here at oldlife, the point here is a simple one – DO NOT POST AT ERIKS BLOG.

    there’s something really not right in the blog world right. now. my suggestion, if you feel the urge, rather, sleep on it, and try again tomorrow.

    grace and peace,


  60. Greg,

    You are right, and I’ve said my peace.

    It really does bother me though that I now have a wordpress tag at a blog where I have been banned.

    And why? Does Erik tell me? No. If you look at this blog, he says, ” i am getting rid of the annoying people in my online life.”

    Greg, everyone here is tired of me saying this, but here I go:

    I’m done.

    Greg, you are wonderful. Thank you for your support.

    Now, back to the regularly scheduled programming.

    Who’s next?


  61. CT- Boston seems to be saying that whilst Adam acquiesced to the covenant, his holy nature would allow no other attitude to the covenant. Similar to the concept of irresistible grace: the regenerated man accepts Chist- he doesn’t accept him against his will- but he can’t not accept him. Lazarus freely left the tomb at Christ’s call, but it would be unthinkable for him as one brought back to life to remain in the tomb. Adam did not stand indifferent to the covenant, his holy nature led/compelled him to accept it as it led him to obey God.

    But also, the covenant is clearly given as a command: Adam was commanded not to eat of the tree. Matthew Henry makes a big thing of that in his commentary on Genesis 2.

    So yes Adam wasn’t obeying the covenant against his desire; but his holy nature meant that he wouldn’t desire anything else. I understand that this requires a bit of finessing to fit in with the fact that Adam did go on to disobey, but it’s bed time.


  62. Hi Alexander,

    If you have not read the Marrow – give it a read. It is an excellent work and Boston’s notes on it are pure gold. It is available for free via too.

    That quote I referenced was taken from a section where Nomista (the legalist) was asking Evangelista (the reformed pastor) questions about the fall, Adam’s mutability, etc. Nomista was asserting that Adam did not freely agree to the terms but was compelled or could not have done other.

    Adam’s will was mutable and free, pre-fall, in a way that ours and Lazarus’ was not – yes?

    Give that book a read – I thought it was very helpful and after reading it I’d put Dr. Hart in the category of the Marrow Men and Dr. Mark Jones? Well, time will tell. Pray for our ministers.


  63. How did this WSC grad gain a place at the ACE table?

    To Mark Jones:

    At times, however, Mark almost seems to suggest that recognition of grace in the covenant of works was unanimous among early modern Reformed thinkers, and — consequently — that the WCF’s reference to every divine covenant per se being an instance of “voluntary condescension on God’s part” was tantamount to naming the covenant of works as gracious in kind. So, for example, Mark advises those who “wish to maintain general agreement with the Reformed orthodox of the seventeenth century” to “be comfortable with (and perhaps insist upon) pre-Fall grace.”

    I’d like to point out, on this score, that there were early modern Reformed thinkers who very explicitly denied divine grace a presence or role in the pre-Fall covenant of works. Robert Rollock, the first principle of Edinburgh University and a pivotal figure in the history of Reformed covenant thought, comes to mind. In Rollock’s 1596 catechism on the divine covenants he firmly insisted that those “works” which God required from Adam in the pre-Fall covenant were products of Adam’s holy and upright nature, and so of his innate powers, not “works proceeding from grace.” This, I take it, would distinguish Rollock from Ames. In his Treatise of Effectual Calling a year later, Rollock denied that divine grace served as the fundamentum — the foundation or basis — of the covenant of works, and named Adam’s holy and upright nature and friendship with God as the proper foundation of said covenant. This, I take it, would distinguish Rollock from the multitude of writers Mark quotes who insisted on recognizing every covenant between God and man as an instance of divine grace per se. Rollock’s analysis of the covenant of works is consistent with his own definition of “divine covenants” per se, a definition which omits any mention of grace.

    It may be that Rollock was entirely alone in his refusal to place grace in the Garden of Eden. But I doubt it. Rollock was, by all accounts, a force to be reckoned with in the development of Reformed covenant theology, and I suspect that one finds his views on this matter reflected to some extent at least among his students and theological heirs. I suspect, moreover, that when the Westminster Divines spoke of “voluntary [divine] condescension” as the basis for each and every covenant, they were, with a view towards Rollock’s opinion if not the man himself, more intentional in their avoidance of the term “grace” then Mark contends. The very carefully crafted wording of WCF 7 permits one to acknowledge grace — not redemptive grace, but grace in some more general sense — as foundational to the covenant of works as such. It certainly doesn’t require anyone to acknowledge the covenant of works as a divinely established gracious relationship.

    To Rick Phillips:

    On the issue of merit in the covenant of works: I wonder if Rick hasn’t misread the sources to some extent when he claims that “the [Westminster] confession restrict[s] merit to the person and work of Christ alone,” and denies such (that is, merit) to anyone else, Adam included. There’s no question that our Confession denies the possibility of fallen sinners meriting forgiveness and eschatological life (16.5), but, so far as I can see, the WCF never explicitly comments upon the issue of whether Adam’s obedience could or would have been meritorious or not.

    Such lack of commentary on the issue of pre-Fall merit follows, I’d wager, from the diversity of opinions one actually encounters among seventeenth-century Reformed writers on this question. Rollock, whom I referenced above, specifically denied that Adam’s obedience would have had the nature — the ratio — of merit because his work was owed to God in light of God’s preceding goodness (not grace) to him. Others, however, insisted that Adam’s obedience would have been meritorious, even if they labored to define “merit” in some way contrary to medieval notions of condign and congruent merit.

    So, for instance, Johannes Braun wrote in his De doctrina foederum: “If Adam had remained upright and done everything which God required of him, he would indeed have merited his reward, but not condignly, as if either his own person or his works were equal in value to the reward. For no creature, no matter how perfect, can merit anything from God in that sense. […] Rather he would have merited ex pacto, according to the stipulation of the covenant — that is, according to God’s good pleasure.” One finds the same doctrine of pre-Fall merit in Francis Turretin, Benedict Pictet, and — I presume — in others of the period.

    I would contend, then, that diversity on the question of pre-Fall merit existed just as much as it did on the issue of pre-Fall grace. Thus, moreover, I would contend that persons affirming the meritorious nature of Adam’s works in the pre-Fall covenant are no more “out of bounds” (as it were) than persons affirming/denying the presence of grace in the Garden.


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