The Covenant of Works, and the Life of God

Jan Rohls describes the Reformed Covenant of Works, in the context of discussing the Westminster Confession of Faith:

. . . Adam fulfills or transgresses the conditions of the covenant not as a private person but as the representative and head of humanity in its entirety, just as God also made the covenant with Adam as the representative and head of humanity in its entirety. . . . On the presupposition that already in the original estate of humanity God made a covenant with Adam that linked the gift of perfect eternal life to the condition of observing the divine commandments, sin appears as Adam’s fall. Adam fails to fulfill that condition insofar as he transgresses the particular prohibition against eating from the tree of knowledge. In doing so Adam also violates the duty of obedience imposed on him by the Decalogue as the natural moral law ingraved in Adam’s heart. “our first parents . . . sinned in eating the forbidden fruit” (S 615). “The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit” (S 678-79). By failing to observe the particular prohibition, personally given to him as the first human being, Adam violates the moral law and thus breaks the covenant of works that God made with him in the original estate of creation. By his own conduct Adam renounces the covenant of works. [Jan Rohls, Reformed Confessions: Theology from Zurich to Barmen, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 70-1.]

What do you think, is this schema – the Covenant of Works – an artificial imposition on the text of Scripture; or, is it an accurate theological articulation of how in fact God relates to man as disclosed in the salvation history unfolded in Scripture’s deposit? Let me tell you what I think, and then you can have your go at it in the comments section.

I think that the problem that the CoW introduces is one that finds its source in what it must presuppose about God, and his relation to nature by grace. The Covenant of Works presupposes that God is by nature (metaphysically, ontologically) a God who inter-relates amongst Himself through Law-keeping. I say this based upon an inference made by taking the imago Dei, and the imago Christi with upmost seriousness! If in fact man’s relation to God is based upon how the Son relates to the Father (and thus our union with Christ by the Spirit), based upon our creation and recreation in the imago Dei/Christi; then according to this premise, the way that the Son relates to the Father is not based on a mutual coinhering love amongst the God-head (Monarchia), but instead it would be based upon a Covenant of Works wherein the Son (as our vicarious mediator/Priest) only is able to find favor with the Father by His obedience to a morality that flows from the Father as the arche or ingenerate source of the “God-head.” In other words, if God is a God of “Law” prior to being shaped by “Love,” then there is introduced, necessarily, a subordinationist stream within the God-head that bases the identities of the persons within the God-head upon an impersonal Law-keeping and not of mutual love for the other that flows from the One Being of God that is consubtantial and coinhering by the inter-relations of the Three Persons. If this is the case, what this would explain, is how it is that the works of God (energies) are broken away from the being of God; so that how God works in creation can somehow be separated from who He is in His being as God. So that Jesus can be seen as the ‘instrument’ and ‘work’ of God in the incarnation who relates humanity to God by meeting the demands of the “Law.” In this scenario, Jesus becomes a non-necessary aspect of God’s One Being, and collapsed into the creation as the “Law-keeper” who meets the demands of a “Law-giving-demanding-god.”

That’s what I think, crudely put; what do you think?

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