Is "Made Under Law" Gracious?

So my catechetical thought for the day is to wonder why those who insist that the Covenant of Works with Adam was a gracious arrangement don’t extend the logic to Christ’s humiliation and regard his submission to the law also as gracious. Sure, the overarching purpose of the incarnation was gracious. But was Christ’s being “made under the law” specifically a gracious reality? Or was it humiliating, as the Larger and Shorter Catechisms classify it?

Q. 27. Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?
A. Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.

For those, again, who want to say that the Covenant of Works was gracious in character, why is it uplifting and such a swell deal for Adam to follow God’s law but for Christ it was a burden and a form of humiliation? I don’t think that simply distinguishing between Christ’s divine and human natures will resolve this.

Here is how Calvin renders Galatians 4:4 (“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,”):

God sent forth his Son. These few words contain much instruction. The Son, who was sent, must have existed before he was sent; and this proves his eternal Godhead. Christ therefore is the Son of God, sent from heaven. Yet this same person was made of a woman, because he assumed our nature, which shews that he has two natures. Some copies read natum instead of filium; but the latter reading is more generally followed, and, in my opinion, is preferable. But the language was also expressly intended to distinguish Christ from other men, as having been formed of the substance of his mother, and not by ordinary generation. In any other sense, it would have been trifling, and foreign to the subject. The word woman is here put generally for the female sex.

Subjected under the law. The literal rendering is, Made under the law; but in my version I have preferred another word, which expresses more plainly the fact that he was placed in subjection to the law. Christ the Son of God, who might have claimed to be exempt from every kind of subjection, became subject to the law. Why? He did so in our room, that he might obtain freedom for us. A man who was free, by constituting himself a surety, redeems a slave: by putting on himself the chains, he takes them off from the other. So Christ chose to become liable to keep the law, that exemption from it might be obtained for us; otherwise it would have been to no purpose that he should come under the yoke of the law, for it certainly was not on his own account that he did so.

If the covenant with Adam was a covenant of works whereby “life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience” (Confession 7.2), it makes sense to describe Christ’s submission to the law as a form of humiliation. But if the covenant with Adam was gracious, as in God offering freely “salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe” (7.3) then how was Christ “made low” by submitting to it?


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.

More Van Tillian Than Thou

The new book that critiques republication (the idea that the Mosaic Covenant had in some sense a works principle) is curious in various respects. But one of the more glaring (if the paper originally presented to the Presbytery of the Northwest upon which the book is based is accurate) is the contention that Meredith Kline botched covenant theology by regarding God’s work of creation as essentially covenantal. Here are the authors of Merit and Moses:

The republication view teaches that man was in covenant with God at the very moment of creation. This is an important shift from the traditional viewpoint. Ontological considerations demand that there be at least a logical distinction (rather than a chronological or historical sequence) between God’s creating man and his entering into covenant with him. The republication teaching now erases this confessional distinction (which is based upon the “great disproportion” between the Creator and creature), and thereby turns God’s providential work of establishing the covenant into an aspect of the work of creation. Thus, we may say that the two distinct acts have been conflated or collapsed into essentially one act in this new view. For all intents and purposes, the relationship between God and man is not first that of sovereign Creator over his finite creature, but is from the point of creation a relationship of “God-in-covenant-with-man.” For Professor Kline and those who have followed his lead in the republication position, it is improper to even consider man’s existence apart from covenant. Thus, man’s covenantal status seems to “trump” his creaturely status. (from the section, “Two Definitions of Merit, Part 2: The Republication Paradigm”)

But what if Kline was simply channeling Cornelius Van Til (who should count as much as Murray unless of course Kline compromises status purity)? Here is what Van Til had to say about creation and God’s covenants:

The philosophy of history that speaks to us from the various chapters of the Confession may be sketched with a few bold strokes. We are told that man could never have had any fruition of God through the revelation that came to him in nature as operating by itself. There was superadded to God’s revelation in nature another revelation, a supernaturally communicated positive revelation. Natural revelation, we are virtually told, was from the outset incorporated into the idea of a covenantal relationship of God with man. Thus every dimension of created existence, even the lowest, was enveloped in a form of exhaustively personal relationship between God and man. The “ateleological” no less than the “teleological,” the “mechanical” no less than the “spiritual” was covenantal in character. (Nature and Scripture)

So how do your reconcile competing human authorities? Maybe you appeal not to sacred cows but to sacred Scripture?

Forensic Friday (night): Hodge on Paul on the Gospel

The apostle, in unfolding the plan of redemption proceeds on the assumption that men are under a law or covenant which demands perfect obedience, and which threatens death in case of transgression. He then shows that no man, whether Jew or Gentile, can fulfill the conditions of that covenant, or so obey the law as to claim justification on the ground of his own righteousness. Still, as this law is perfectly righteous, it cannot be arbitrarily set aside. What then was to be done? What hope can there be for the salvation of sinners? The apostle answers by saying, that what the law could not do (that is, save men), God has accomplished by the mission of the Son. But how does the Son save us? This is the very question before us. It relates to the nature of the work of Christ . . . . Paul’s answer to that question is, that Christ saves us by being made under the law and fulfilling all its demands. He fulfilled all righteousness, he knew no sin, he was holy, harmless, and separate from sinners. He bore our sins in his own body on the tree, and thus endured the death which the law threatened against sin. He has thus redeemed us from the law; that, is, we are no longer under obligation to satisfy, in our own person, its demands, in order to our justification, the perfect righteousness of Christ is offered as the ground of justification, and all who accept of that righteousness by faith, have it so imputed to them , that they can plead it as their own, and God has promised to accept it to their salvation. We can hardly persuade ourselves that any ordinary reader of the Bible can deny that this is a correct representation of the manner in which Paul preached the gospel. (Charles Hodge, “Beman on the Atonement,” Essays and Reviews, pp., 155-56)