Covenant of Grace and the Mosaic Law

You will here some say in the Reformed world that the Mosaic Administration is a republication of the Covenant of Works, citing most effectively Leviticus 18:5 (“So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD.”) and other places where it seems that obedience to the Law as given by Moses is the requirement for the Lord’s blessing and therefore life. However I believe that one can cite the same verses and make the opposite notation, that the Law being an administration of the Second Covenant, the Covenant of Grace, is not a Covenant of Works because most strikingly that which a Covenant of Works is cannot be fulfilled by the Mosaic Covenant. So there is I think a definitional mistake by categorizing the Mosaic administration in any part of a Covenant of Works because in doing so it presupposes that one can follow the Law to receive salvation like Adam (even if such a thing were possible, which it is not), who was first under the Covenant of Works for salvation and failed. Since Adam failed the probationary test we cannot now fulfill the requirements of this covenant and since according to Romans 5 the curse of this failure continues in us since Adam was our covenantal head it would therefore not make sense that God would put is again under a covenant which had been broken by Adam’s disobedience (and our disobedience in Adam). Especially since we continue under its curse. The Covenant of Works had already been abrogated, why would/should it be instituted again by the Mosaic administration since we who are descendants of Adam were already condemned? It seems to be unnecessary to put us again under condemnation a second time.

The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 7, sections III, IV, & V makes clear that the Law (or Mosaic covenant) is an administration of the Covenant of Grace.

Chapter 7 –

Of God’s Covenant with Man.

III. Man by [Adam’s] fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and 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 life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

IV. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ, the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.

V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.

You see in section V that the Divines at least believed the Law (thereby meaning the Mosaic Covenant) is just a special administration of the Covenant of Grace. While administered differently than “in the time of the gospel” it still is part of the Second Covenant, or the Covenant of Grace.

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8 thoughts on “Covenant of Grace and the Mosaic Law

  1. Ben, I know I sort of referenced this with you via email, but was wondering how Chapter 19 of the WCF fits in with this as well:

    I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which
    he bound him, and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact,
    and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling,
    and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him
    with power and ability to keep it.

    II. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of
    righteousness; and as such, was delivered by God upon Mount
    Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the
    first four commandments containing our duty towards God,
    and the other six our duty to man.

    Of course, that also seems to suggest the TC were related to the CoW, at least in some sort of way. I am not going to impugn the Divines, obviously; nor do I think they were inconsistent. I was wondering how you think all of this fits together.

  2. What I believe the Divines to be teaching here in Chapter 19 is not that the Covenant of Works continues in the Law (because how can a Covenant continue after it is broken?) and that we are still able/supposed to fulfill act on this Covenant but that in effect the Law continues in its role as a schoolmaster just as it did for Adam. In other words the Law in the Garden fills the same role as it does for us. Also because the Covenant of Works was specifically limited to Gen 2:15-17 the rest of the law is still in effect, but the original Covenant is not.

    Hope that makes sense.

  3. Ben,

    You simply cannot malke the case that the WCF does not teach republication. You said, “You see in section V that the Divines at least believed the Law (thereby meaning the Mosaic Covenant) is just a special administration of the Covenant of Grace.” You should rethink that statement, because you cannot say that the divines were unanimous. Chapter 19, while it does not explicitly teach republication, does leave the door open for it. I would suggest you read Chapter One of Mark Karlberg’s Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective, he writes, “It is our contention that within the historic Reformed tradition the hermeneutical key to this issue is the symbolic-typical apsect of OT revelation, and the recognition of the dual principles of law and grace operative in the Mosaic covenant administration. The Mosaic Covenant is to be viewed in some sense as a covenant of works. This has been the conviction of the VAST MAJORITY [emphasis mine] of Reformed theologians in the early history of federalism (up to 1648).” (18)

    A biblical consideration that you must deal with is the idea of the law of works or righteousness that is of the law, and the law of faith, or the righteousness that is by faith, that Paul talks about in Romans. Most Reformed theologians would agree that the law of works=covenant of works, and that the law of faith=covenant of grace. Paul talks about the same law as both a law of faith and a law of works in Rom. 10:4-5, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.” Verses 6 and following then describe the righteousness which is by faith.

    The Mosaic Covenant, I would argue, is both a Covenant of Works, and a Covenant of Grace. A covenant of works to remind the Israelites that they were lawbreakers and to show them their need of a Savior, and a Covenant of Grace to show them that their righteousness is by faith.

  4. “The Mosaic Covenant, I would argue, is both a Covenant of Works, and a Covenant of Grace. A covenant of works to remind the Israelites that they were lawbreakers and to show them their need of a Savior, and a Covenant of Grace to show them that their righteousness is by faith”

    The problem with this is that it means that the New Covenant must also be a covenant of works and a covenant of grace, as people are still law-breakers today.

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