From DGH on Can Humans Merit Before God Submitted (2) on 2015 04 23 at 12:42 pm


We need to stop meeting like this. I am still unsure why you keep pushing the dogmatic boundaries on grace, merit, the covenant of works, and the satisfaction of Christ. Perhaps you’ll recall that Rick Phillips tried to moderate your views a year ago. But you persist in ways that might have even caused Norman Shepherd embarrassment. He was not someone to show off.

Since you and Rick have gone round and around again, I only want to add two cents (same in Canadian dollars).

First, you insist that words need to mean what they mean.

Professor VanDrunen does not define “merit”. He seems to make the argument that because Christ, the true image bearer, merited before God, Adam, as an image-bearer, also could have merited before God. In his quote there appears to be a one-to-one correlation between the merit of Christ and the merit of Adam. This is questionable ground, in my view. He needs to define merit, otherwise we are left guessing, at best, what he means. Is he departing from what the Reformed scholastics meant by merit or agreeing with them?

Great. O lexicographer define thyself’s words:

There are important Christological reasons why Christ could merit, but Adam could not. If our understanding of what constitutes a meritorious work follows the Reformed scholastics, then the answer is quite simple: the dignity of Christ’s person (as theanthropos) explains why he, and he alone, could merit before God.

Sorry, that’s not a definition. So why hold Dave VanDrunen (or the objects of your criticism) to a standard that you don’t meet? Are you special like Jesus? Sorry if that’s a bit snarky, but in previous posts you have compared Jesus to believers, so it’s both fair and snarky.

Second, “voluntary condescension” is not grace. If we are going to insist on the exact meaning of words, then again you can’t pour grace into that phrase from the Confession (though I guess you can because Canada is a free country like the U.S.).

What I particularly don’t understand (howl if you like here) is why you keep stating that the covenant with Adam could not have been meritorious because the reward would have been disproportionate to the work he would have performed:

Finally, the rewards given to Christ are proportionate to the work he performed. Adam’s reward would have been far greater, assuming we say that Adam would have been granted heavenly life, than what he “worked for”.

But following your logic, was Adam’s penalty, his condemnation along with the rest of the human race, proportionate to his merely eating a piece of fruit? Yes, it was an act of disobedience. But one strike and you and your children and your children’s children are out is not an arrangement that brings to mind grace, no matter how much Canadians struggle with baseball. It sounds more like a threat or a curse arrangement. In which case, if Adam could earn everlasting condemnation simply by one act, why not everlasting blessing for the work prescribed by a just and powerful God?

Comments are still open.

P.S. A word of advice — let others decide whether your response is gracious.

40 thoughts on “From DGH on Can Humans Merit Before God Submitted (2) on 2015 04 23 at 12:42 pm

  1. What then are the good works of men meritorious in the sight of God?

    If you speak of evil workes, we affirm that they are meritorious, taking the name of merit properly, and punishment is due unto them, taking the name of debt properly; for the wages of sin is death, Rom. 6.23. But if we speak of good works, we deny, out of the promises, that any good work, no not of the most excellent creature, doth merit at the hands of God, because the Scripture expresly teacheth it, Rom. 4.4. To him that worketh, &c. And Chap. 11.6. If it be of Workes, then not of Grace, Ephesians. 2.8, 9. (Bucanus, 396).


  2. Mark Jones is certainly aware of Turretin’s discussion of this very issue, which distinguishes between merit proper and merit pactum, and between covenants between equals and covenants between unequals.

    I wonder whether he will address it in the future.


  3. DGH, maybe MJ golfs? Ever thought of extending in that way the right hand of fellowship?

    Or maybe the left foot is still what’s called for, I’m just reading here.



  4. Thanks, Brad. Worth having a sample:

    Another form of the attack on the Covenant of Works doctrine (and thus on the classic law-gospel contrast) asserts that even if it is allowed that Adam’s obedience would have earned something, the disproportion between the value of that act of service and the value of the proferred blessing forbids us to speak here of simple equity or justice. The contention is that Adam’s ontological status limited the value or weight of his acts. More specifically his act of obedience would not have eternal value or significance; it could not earn a reward of eternal, confirmed life. In the offer of eternal life, so we are told, we must therefore recognize an element of “grace” in the preredemptive covenant. But belying this assessment of the situation is the fact that if it were true that Adam’s act of obedience could not have eternal significance then neither could or did his actual act of disobedience have eternal significance. It did not deserve the punishment of everlasting death. Consistency would compel us to judge God guilty of imposing punishment beyond the demands of justice, pure and simple. God would have to be charged with injustice in inflicting the punishment of Hell, particularly when he exacted that punishment from his Son as the substitute for sinners. The Cross would be the ultimate act of divine injustice. That is the theologically disastrous outcome of blurring the works-grace contrast by appealing to a supposed disproportionality between work and reward.

    The disproportionality view’s failure with respect to the doctrine of divine justice can be traced to its approach to the definition of justice. A proper approach will hold that God is just and his justice is expressed in all his acts; in particular, it is expressed in the covenant he institutes. The terms of the covenant – the stipulated reward for the stipulated service – are a revelation of that justice. As a revelation of God’s justice the terms of the covenant define justice. According to this definition, Adam’s obedience would have merited the reward of eternal life and not a gram of grace would have been involved.

    Refusing to accept God’s covenant word as the definer of justice, the disproportionality view exalts above God’s word a standard of justice of its own making. Assigning ontological values to Adam’s obedience and God’s reward it finds that weighed on its judicial scales they are drastically out of balance. In effect that conclusion imputes an imperfection in justice to the Lord of the covenant. The attempt to hide this affront against the majesty of the Judge of all the earth by condescending to assess the relation of Adam’s act to God’s reward as one of congruent merit is no more successful than Adam’s attempt to manufacture a covering to conceal his nakedness. It succeeds only in exposing the roots of this opposition to Reformed theology in the theology of Rome.


  5. I guess we can be gracious if we announce it, huh? Talk about condescension… Mark comes down to our level and let’s us know he’s gracious. I think I’d rather have an announcement from outside of me that for the sake of Christ I am righteous. Rather than an announcement from my own lips that I am now being gracious. But, then again, I’m no professional…


  6. @ dgh
    Jack, I know some theology and I’m a professional. Does that count?

    Well that’s good. As long as you don’t fall into the “amateur” category…

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


  7. Jack, I liked MJ better when he was all about Taylor Swift.

    Hey, without going astray, we’ll be in your neck of the wood in mid August for vacay. I never found out whether you golf or not..

    Grace and peace.


  8. AB,
    Come visit at El Camino. As far as golf, it’s been years since I played. For this duffer, too expensive of a past-time with too high of a handicap…


  9. Jack, I’d be a fool to let my lack of skills hold me back.

    If you’re around the week we are around, it would be great to see you and DP again.



  10. DGH,

    Thanks on two counts. First, thank you for taking the fight to Mark on this one. Ever since I heard it in class, I have thought that Meredith’s reciprocal argument against disproportionality was especially insightful and helpful. I hope Estelle makes good use of this argument in the committee. I know Lane is intimately familiar with it, but with him switching sides and all…

    Second, thanks for having open comments on your blog. I don’t know what they’re afraid of over at Ref21.


  11. Mark was not serious about the “amateur” thing. He was talking about learning from the great theologians, esp. those in the post. Hence quotation marks.

    Also, Jeff C., Mark has affirmed pactum merit. He linked to an earlier post in his first post on merit which has him endorsing Turretin. It would be good for people to read before jumping to conclusions.


  12. Darren, perhaps one of Mark’s blindspots is that he parrots the old theologians so much that he’s ignoring a newer generation of theologians in whose context the import of words and phrases may have shifted. Rick Phillips makes that point in his appreciative conversation with MJ on Ref21; actually I tried bringing the exact same thing to his attention over six years ago.

    Again, it’s not just what you say. What you do with what you say is also important, as is what people hear you saying.


  13. Darren, give us all a break. MJ not only knows exactly what he’s saying and the anticipated response, but he’s been ‘Jonesing’ for the public platform to do it for more than a few years now. Some of us amateurs are pretty good at the whole reading comprehension skill set and have long memories. Btw, when the amateurrs are better than the pro’s, in our spare time while not pulling checks from the church coffers, what exactly does that say about the pro’s?


  14. @ Darren-who-is-different-from-Darren:

    I know that he has affirmed merit pactum. And yet he does not seem to let that concept inform his post here. So I wonder what’s going on.

    Again: I hope that he will address the distance between himself and Turretin.


  15. @ Darren the handler…

    I’ve heard more than a few times that “people just don’t get his sarcasm.” Well, maybe I don’t. But sarcasm lends itself to double meanings. And there have been a few occasions that one might have rightly inferred that Dr. Jones has little time (thin-skinned?) for those not as “studied” as he is on a particular topic or at least in agreement with him (e.g. his aborted interchange with Dr. Duguid here at OL). If he is being misunderstood then it would behoove him to respond to the questions/concerns raised by his Ref21 posts. To assume that the problem is always with the reader/hearer of one’s words without considering how at times one comes across (let alone the actual content) is not only self-protective and self-enhancing, but potentially self-defeating.

    Mr. Miller, more often than he’d like, comes across in ways that are self-protective, self-enhancing, and self-defeating.


  16. it should be noted A. Denlinger, Calvin wrote this in 1548, not 1640. Again, comments open, thanks to DGH:

    Calvin’s words to Bullinger in the 1640’s regarding their differences on the Lord’s Supper: “In whatever way I may hold the firm persuasion of a greater communication of Christ in the sacraments than you express in words, we shall not on that account cease to hold the same Christ and to be one in him. Some day, perhaps, it will be given us to unite in fuller harmony of doctrine.” –


  17. Yeah. Got it. Mark’s problem is that he is too much like the old theologians. Where is the eye roll emoticon when you need it?


  18. Finally, the rewards given to Christ are proportionate to the work he performed. Adam’s reward would have been far greater, assuming we say that Adam would have been granted heavenly life, than what he “worked for”.

    I think MJ is woefully selling short what life in the Garden represented. When Adam was placed in the Garden that was in the region of Eden – read the text carefully, it says God made him, then afterward placed him in the Garden, the text indicates he was not shaped in the Sacred Space of the Garden, but placed in it after God made him, and then sometime thereafter planted the Garden in Eden and placed Adam in it. Life was in the Garden was heavenly life, it was the protological seed of the eschatological destiny of man. To be sure, Adam was to grow the boundaries of the garden, so that it would fill the earth – so while life in the garden may have had a greater quantitative growth to accommodate more people and space, the principal of life in the garden – perfect fellowship with God, fellow humans, and the created order, and access to immortality via the Tree of Life, does not seem to be in need of any qualitative change.

    Much is made of Adam’s naivete, but this I believe is wildly speculative. The fact that he named the animals would indicate (especially in its ANE context) a great degree of wisdom insight into the nature of these creatures, since a name in the biblical world wasn’t merely an appelation or title, but something that reflected the nature and identity of the one named. So, I do not believe that Adam’s sin was an immature mistake, but rather with a good deal of understanding of what his own role was in the Garden, and what life with God meant, and how eating from the tree of Knowledge would jeopardize the blessed state he lived in.

    So, while our heavenly existence will be quantitatively greater than Adam’s life in the Garden, since the Garden will now be surrounded by a vast City full of redeemed humanity, the quality of life will be much the same as he once enjoyed under the Covenant of Works. So, I do not buy the disproportionality of reward to obedience – Adam was already living in the reality of the reward when he rebelled. The only difference vis-a-vis the CoW, was that at some point the probationary period would come to an end, and the threat of death would be lifted.

    The only way one can place a great deal of stock in the notion of disproportional reward is to misunderstand the nature of what it meant to exist in the Garden, and to make Adam and Eve into helpless, witless creatures. To me, the case seems to be quite the opposite.


  19. I didn’t develop this enough: the text indicates he was not shaped in the Sacred Space of the Garden, but placed in it after God made him, and then sometime thereafter planted the Garden in Eden and placed Adam in it. Life was in the Garden was heavenly life,

    What I should have said is that the implication of Adam not being made in the Garden is that the heavenly life was not his by nature, he was an earthly creature. So, the condescension came before he ever fell, by God placing Adam, and then Eve in the garden where they would enjoy perfect fellowship with him, carry out their priestly/kingly callings, and access immortality through the Tree of Life. This makes the reality of his rebellion all the worse when considered against the generosity of God.


  20. @ Jack – Then let me take another swing at it before I go to the dug out. Perhaps ref21 should stop giving men a platform who cannot clearly articulate their views clearly and concisely. How many guys are they going to push into the deep end before they are ready to swim? There have been a lot of flailing going on in that pool this year. How many bodies do they need to drag out before they determine the swimming instructors are incompetent?


  21. Mark Jones is a very tolerant guy who likes lots of catholic”diversity”, and he only wants you to know that he’s on the side of all that is “classic” and “historically the majority” and.

    You are not.

    1. Debates on the efficacy of baptism.

    2. Debates on forsaking sin in order to be justified.

    3. Debates on justification are well known, especially on the matter of imputation. But even the question of whether justification may be “reiterated” or only understood as a one-time act was disputed.

    Debates on the necessity of the atonement. Rutherford and Twisse versus Owen.

    Hypothetical Universalism seems to have quite a strong pedigree among Reformed theologians

    Debates on the Mosaic covenant. I’ve written pretty extensively on this topic, even in Drawn into Controversie. While I am still not inclined to believe that Kline’s specific view has much historical precedence, I have never raised the issue at Presbytery once, and do not think his followers are outside the Reformed pale because they hold to his view of the Mosaic covenant. True, I can disagree strongly with Kline’s view; but I would not personally refuse to ordain someone on that account.


  22. @Amish-

    Ignore my previous comment. Apparently misunderstanding your words, it is I who swung and missed. Upon your extended remarks, I realize now you swung and hit for extra bases. What can I say? I grew up a Philly fan… And I shouldn’t too quickly reply to comments at work!


  23. It can be a tough room, but we’re not always evenhanded. And then you’re gonna double down with wrestling masks and snark?! Brother(father), you might wanna wear a cup.


  24. There has got to be something greater than myself at work for me, which is permanently active, ongoing, sure and true, which I can rest upon and trust in, especially when I hit those times in life where I am like the man in Psalms 77 and 88, when not only is it difficult to think about God, and pray, have a good quiet time, time in the Word (all of which while I am not forsaking the assembling of myself together with other believers), and where the mind whirrs in constant battle against all kinds of undesirable thoughts which are not pleasing to God, even when I resolve to take them captive to Christ, it seems I am overwhelmed – unspeakably at times. And for which I do not want to be ‘under the gun’ to confess to a ‘Pietistic’ individual or Small Group for the sake of fulfilling the command to ‘confess your faults one to another’. Instead, I will confess to those I find ‘suitable’ (as per Calvin) be it a church officer or a close fellow believer. The ‘Merit’ that I need surely cannot be mine to reckon on – if so, I am doomed already. And if I am taking notes on how well I am gaining ‘Merit’……..what’s the difference? I read a post recently in a column that I totally agreed with (concerning families praying together, having devotionals, etc.). But what about those who seek and endeavor to institute those in households where it is difficult to do because of extenuating circumstances, or even unwillingness on the part of some family members – or conflict in the home? In short – ‘fits and starts’. the desire to do such is there, but it doesn’t always happen in a neat little package or box. Does that mean that Christ is not at work, especially when it is a 2 steps forward, 3 steps back type of movement in Sanctification? To paraphrase President Gerald R. Ford, I believe that this is where most of the American (Reformed) people are (in the middle) – and (my commentary) – they desire – earnestly desire the most excellent way – overcoming – victory – progress – freedom – purity – and so on…………yet, the vehicle that they are presently in can only make the drive with ethanol choking the carburator, gears that stick and grind, and a battery that constantly needs recharging………(an analogy only goes so far by the way, but you get the point)………….

    love and appreciate all you fellow OLTS friends!


  25. Footnote on walking out our faith in Sanctification:

    2 steps forward, 3 steps back…..3 steps forward, 2 steps back……1 step forward, 7 steps back……..falling backwards………falling frontwards……..sideways……….bowed-down/contorted………blown away at times, the Lord puts us back on our walk…….


  26. Augustine’s Sermon 16 is referenced by Herman Witsius in The Economy of the Covenants, p. 77 Volume 1 and might be of interest on the subject of merit:

    XIII. Whatever then is promised to the creature by God, ought all to be ascribed to the immense goodness of the Deity. To this purpose Augustine speaks well, serm. 16, on the words of the apostle: “God became our debtor, not by receiving anything, but by promising what he pleased. For, it was of his own bounty that he vouchsafed to make himself a debtor.” But as this goodness is natural to God, no less than holiness and justice; and as it is equally becoming God to act, agreeably to his goodness, with a holy and innocent creature; as agreeably to his justice, with a sinful creature; so, from this consideration of the divine goodness, I imagine the following things may be very plainly inferred.

    I do not have access to Augustine’s sermon that is referenced but there is certainly a long history of merit in the Garden of Eden.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.