John Calvin on “Do This and Live” Part III

From John Calvin’s Commentary on Leviticus 18:5:

“You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.”

Ye shall therefore keep my statutes. Although Moses introduces this passage, where he exhorts the Israelites to cultivate chastity in respect to marriage, and not to fall into the incestuous pollutions of the Gentiles, yet, as it is a remarkable one, and contains general instruction, from whence Paul derives his definition of the righteousness of the Law, (Romans 10:5,) it seems to me to come in very appropriately here, inasmuch as it sanctions and confirms the Law by the promise of reward. The hope of eternal life is, therefore, given to all who keep the Law; for those who expound the passage as referring to this earthly and transitory life are mistaken. The cause of this error was, because they feared that thus the righteousness of faith might be subverted, and salvation grounded on the merit of works. But Scripture does not therefore deny that men are justified by works, because the Law itself is imperfect, or does not give instructions for perfect righteousness; but because the promise is made of none effect by our corruption and sin. Paul, therefore, as I have just said, when he teaches that righteousness is to be sought for in the grace of Christ by faith, (Romans 10:4,) proves his statement by this argument, that none is justified who has not fulfilled what the Law commands. Elsewhere also he reasons by contrast, where he contends that the Law does not accord with faith as regards the cause of justification, because the Law requires works for the attainment of salvation, whilst faith directs us to Christ, that we may be delivered from the curse of the Law. Foolishly, then, do some reject as an absurdity the statement, that if a man fulfills the Law he attains to righteousness; for the defect does not arise from the doctrine of the Law, but from the infirmity of men, as is plain from another testimony given by Paul. (Romans 8:3.) We must observe, however, that salvation is not to be expected from the Law unless its precepts be in every respect complied with; for life is not promised to one who shall have done this thing, or that thing, but, by the plural word, full obedience is required of us. The pratings of the Popish theologians about partial righteousness are frivolous and silly, since God embraces at once all the commandments; and who is there that can boast of having thoroughly fulfilled them? If, then, none was ever clear of transgression, or ever will be, although God by no means deceives us, yet the promise becomes ineffectual, because we do not perform our part of the agreement.

John Calvin on “Do This and Live” Part II

John Calvin on Romans 10:5

5. For Moses, etc. To render it evident how much at variance is the righteousness of faith and that of works, he now compares them; for by comparison the opposition between contrary things appears more clear. But he refers not now to the oracles of the Prophets, but to the testimony of Moses, and for this reason, — that the Jews might understand that the law was not given by Moses in order to detain them in a dependence on works, but, on the contrary, to lead them to Christ. He might have indeed referred to the Prophets as witnesses; but still this doubt must have remained, “How was it that the law prescribed another rule of righteousness?” He then removes this, and in the best manner, when by the teaching of the law itself he confirms the righteousness of faith.

But we ought to understand the reason why Paul harmonizes the law with faith, and yet sets the righteousness of one in opposition to that of the other: — The law has a twofold meaning; it sometimes includes the whole of what has been taught by Moses, and sometimes that part only which was peculiar to his ministration, which consisted of precepts, rewards, and punishments. But Moses had this common office — to teach the people the true rule of religion. Since it was so, it behooved him to preach repentance and faith; but faith is not taught, except by propounding promises of divine mercy, and those gratuitous: and thus it behooved him to be a preacher of the gospel; which office he faithfully performed, as it appears from many passages. In order to instruct the people in the doctrine of repentance, it was necessary for him to teach what manner of life was acceptable to God; and this he included in the precepts of the law. That he might also instill into the minds of the people the love of righteousness, and implant in them the hatred of iniquity, promises and threatening were added; which proposed rewards to the just, and denounced dreadful punishments on sinners. It was now the duty of the people to consider in how many ways they drew curses on themselves, and how far they were from deserving anything at God’s hands by their works, that being thus led to despair as to their own righteousness, they might flee to the haven of divine goodness, and so to Christ himself. This was the end or design of the Mosaic dispensation.

But as evangelic promises are only found scattered in the writings of Moses, and these also somewhat obscure, and as the precepts and rewards, allotted to the observers of the law, frequently occur, it rightly appertained to Moses as his own and peculiar office, to teach what is the real righteousness of works, and then to show what remuneration awaits the observance of it, and what punishment awaits those who come short of it. For this reason Moses is by John compared with Christ, when it is said,

“That the law was given by Moses, but that grace
and truth came by Christ.” (John 1:17.)

And whenever the word law is thus strictly taken, Moses is by implication opposed to Christ: and then we must consider what the law contains, as separate from the gospel. Hence what is said here of the righteousness of the law, must be applied, not to the whole office of Moses, but to that part which was in a manner peculiarly committed to him. I come now to the words.

For Moses describes, etc. Paul has γράφει writes; which is used for a verb which means to describe, by taking away a part of it [ἐπιγράφει.] The passage is taken from Leviticus 18:5, where the Lord promises eternal life to those who would keep his law; for in this sense, as you see, Paul has taken the passage, and not only of temporal life, as some think. Paul indeed thus reasons, — “Since no man can attain the righteousness prescribed in the law, except he fulfills strictly every part of it, and since of this perfection all men have always come far short, it is in vain for any one to strive in this way for salvation: Israel then were very foolish, who expected to attain the righteousness of the law, from which we are all excluded.” See how from the promise itself he proves, that it can avail us nothing, and for this reason, because the condition is impossible. What a futile device it is then to allege legal promises, in order to establish the righteousness of the law! For with these an unavoidable curse comes to us; so far is it, that salvation should thence proceed. The more detestable on this account is the stupidity of the Papists, who think it enough to prove merits by adducing bare promises. “It is not in vain,” they say, “that God has promised life to his servants.” But at the same time they see not that it has been promised, in order that a consciousness of their own transgressions may strike all with the fear of death, and that being thus constrained by their own deficiency, they may learn to flee to Christ.

John Calvin On “Do This and Live”

This is an excerpt from John Calvin’s Commentary on Luke 10:28.

Luke 10:28. Do this, and thou shalt live. I have explained a little before, how this promise agrees with freely bestowed justification by faith; for the reason why God justifies us freely is, not that the Law does not point out perfect righteousness, but because we fail in keeping it, and the reason why it is declared to be impossible for us to obtain life by it is, that it is weak through our flesh, (Romans 8:3.).

So then these two statements are perfectly consistent with each other, that the Law teaches how men may obtain righteousness by works, and yet that no man is justified by works, because the fault lies not in the doctrine of the Law, but in men. It was the intention of Christ, in the meantime, to vindicate himself from the calumny which, he knew, was brought against him by the unlearned and ignorant, that he set aside the Law, so far as it is a perpetual rule of righteousness.

Louis Berkhof on Republication

From Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology pg. 292

In the Patriarchal period the gracious character of the Covenant [of Grace] stood out more prominently than in the later period. The promise was more in the foreground, Rom. 4:13, Gal 3:18. Yet even this should not be stressed unduly as if there were no legal burdens, both moral and ceremonial, before the time of Moses, and no gracious promises during the period of the law. The substance of the law was in force before Moses and sacrifices were already required and gracious promises are found in great abundance in the post-Mosiac writings. The only real point of difference is this: because the law constituted for Israel an explicit reminder of the demands of the covenant of works, there was a greater danger of mistaking the way of the law for the way of salvation. And the history of Israel teaches us that they did not escape the danger.

pg.298

The Siniatic covenant included a service that contained a positive reminder of the strict demands of the covenant of works. The law was placed very much in the foreground, giving prominence once more to the earlier legal element. But the covenant of Sinai was not a renewal of the covenant of works; in it the law was made subservient to the covenant of grace. This is indicated already in the introduction to the ten commandments, Ex. 20:2, Deut 5:6, and further in Rom. 3:20, Gal 3:24. It is true that at Sinai a conditional element was added to the covenant, but it was not the salvation of the Israelite but his theocratic standing in the nation, and the enjoyment of external blessings that was made dependent on the keeping of the law, Deut 28:1-14. The law served a twofold purpose in connection with the covenant of grace. (1) to increase the consciousness of sin, Rom. 3:20, 4:15, Gal 3:19, and (2) to be a tutor unto Christ, Gal 3:24.

pg. 298-299 cont.

There have been several deviating opinions respecting the Siniatic covenant which deserve attention…

c. Still others are of the opinion that God established three covenants at Sinai, a national covenant, a covenant of works, and a covenant of grace. The first made with all the Israelites and was the continuation of the particularistic line which began with Abraham. In it God demands external obedience and promises temporal blessings. The second was a repetition of the covenant of works by the giving of the Decalogue. And the last a renewal of the covenant of grace as it was established with Abraham in the giving of the ceremonial law.

Another Word on Republication

In one of the posts below we have been discussing the Covenant of Grace and the Mosaic Administration and its place in Covenant Theology. One of the arguments against this view is an understanding that the Covenant of Works is republished in the Mosaic Covenant.

Here linked is a great article refuting Republication.

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.