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?