Patrick Gillespie on the Covenant of Works (2)

In my last post, I began to present an annotated outline of Patrick Gillespie’s (1617-1675) treatment of the Covenant of Works from his work, The Ark of the Testament. We saw that he made the case that there was a Covenant of Works with Adam before the Fall. Then he explained how God transacted this covenant with Adam. This is where we begin in this post. This discussion is important because it helps us understand how Reformed authors generally understood the relationship between the moral law, the Covenant of Works, the Mosaic covenant, and other related issues. This shows how a representative author intertwined exegesis and theology in order to set an important backdrop for the Covenant of Grace. It also provides insight into the place of the law in Reformed covenant theology.
As in the previous post, the material in [brackets] represents my commentary on the outline.
I. How God transacted the covenant of works with Adam (183)
A. God impressed and wrote the covenant of works on Adam’s heart. This is what God restores to man in the new covenant. Jer. 31:33 (183). [Gillespie argues backwards here from what God restores in Christ to what Adam possessed in Paradise]
1. “The law of Works, or the law of Nature, or the substance of the Moral Law (for by these here I intend the same thing)” was written in Adam’s heart and it constituted part of the image of God. Col. 3:10. [As Turretin and other argued, “natural law” referred to natural rights between God and the creature and between the creatures and one another as created by God. This meant, for example, that God deserved worship and obedience because of the nature of his relation to his creatures and that things like homosexuality were wrong because of the manner in which God created man. “Moral law” was the outward expression of these natural principles. Gillespie intended “the same thing” by both terms because the content of natural and moral law was identical in practice].
2. By this law, Adam knew both the sovereign will of God regarding his duty, and the gracious will of God concerning his reward. The remnants of this fact appear in Rom. 2:15. This is also why men go about to establish their own righteousness. Rom. 10:3.
3. This law on man’s heart was the Covenant of Works and is, therefore, called the “law of works.” Rom. 3:27. The moral law as abstracted from the law of Moses is a covenant of works. It became weak through the flesh (Rom. 8:3), brings the knowledge of sin, and works wrath (Rom. 3:20; 4:15). “This was the law written in the heart of Adam.” (184).
4. God transacted the Covenant of Works with Adam by writing this law upon his heart. We see this by inference from Jer. 31:33. (184). [This point and the preceding ones explain the reasoning behind WCF chapter 19. Even though God gave Adam the moral law as a Covenant of Works (paragraph 1), “this law” continues to be a perfect rule of obedience after the fall (paragraph 2). Though God added ceremonial and judicial laws temporarily to the moral law (paragraphs 3-4), the moral law continues to be of use to all men generally (paragraph 5) and to believers particularly (paragraph 6). These distinctions are only possible by distinguishing the law of God, which is rooted in natural law, from its use as a Covenant of Works for Adam].
B. God expressly transacted the Covenant of Works with Adam by a positive law and command. Gen. 2:16-17 (184). [Positive law referred to something that God ordained that had no natural necessity. In this case, the Tree was like all of the other trees in the Garden. It was forbidden only by virtue of God’s command. Other examples of positive law in Scripture include the day of the Sabbath and the sacraments, such as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper].
1. These verbal expressions given to Adam amounted to a covenant (185). Both parties agreed or consented to the terms and conditions, though God administered them sovereignly.
2. The prohibition of eating from the tree was a small part of Adam’s obedience (185). The law that constituted the Covenant of Works was partly natural and partly positive (186). Jas. 2:10-11; Gal. 3:10. [It was natural because man owed obedience to God in all things, yet it was positive since there was no natural reason for forbidding the Tree].
3. The prohibition to eat of the tree was a symbolic precept that represented his entire obedience to God (187. Citing John Ball).
4. The tree itself was an indifferent thing and it was prohibited purely by a positive commandment of God (187. Citing Anthony Burgess).
5. God gave this positive law in addition to the natural law on man’s heart for several important reasons. (187).
a. To lead man to better acknowledge God’s superiority over him (187).
b. “For the greater trial of man’s obedience” (188).
c. To show man that God only has absolute dominion over the creation. Man has relative dominion only (188).
d. To show that God sets limits to our enjoyment of the creation (188).
e. To show that God’s revealed will through his Word is the only rule that can teach us what to avoid (188).
f. To show the greater aggravation of Adam’s in the case of disobedience (189).
g. To show that man could not live without God’s law or Word in any state of life (189).
C. The way of transacting the covenant with Adam in relation to the covenant seals (189). [As noted in the previous post, seals were an important part of God’s covenants with man].
1. The use of the two sacraments or symbols in man’s innocence (189). [Johannes Cocceius denied that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a sacrament by arguing that it was a sign and not a seal, since Adam was prohibited from partaking of it. He argued, with other Reformed authors, that the Tree of Life was both a sign and a seal].
a. In relation to Adam’s weakness of mutability. Adam had no sinful weakness, but he was mutable as a creature. He needed “confirming grace” (189). [This illustrates that grace was a broader concept than showing mercy to sinners. Grace entailed giving creatures what they did not deserve, whether sinless or not. This is why WLC 13 observed that God “elected some angels to glory … for the praise of his glorious grace.”].
b. God gave man an open declaration and assurance that he would never break his covenant with man (190).
c. They gave Adam greater boldness and freedom to perform the covenant (190).
d. They helped to prevent his distrust of God and breaking of the covenant (190). The outcome showed that he needed this.
e. Symbols and seals are suitable for all of God’s covenant dealings with men.
2. The reasons behind the names of the two trees have given rise to numerous conjectures (190). God did not name the trees according to their natures, but according to their ends (191). The two trees were a visible confirmation of the two parts of the covenant.
D. Adam’s consent in the manner of God’s entering into covenant with him (192).
1. Adam knew that God dealt with him by way of covenant (193. Citing A. Burgess).
2. Adam’s will was perfect, upright, and entirely submissive to God’s revealed will. He would not refuse the Covenant of Works, though his consent was not needed to constitute it (194). [This appears, on the surface, to contradict his six components of a covenant treated in the previous post, which lists mutual consent at a component of all covenants. However, Gillespie notes that it would be inconceivable for a perfect man to reject the terms of this covenant].
3. God engaged Adam’s consent in the covenant by writing the law upon his heart (194).
This section of Gillespie’s outline reveals several important components of the Reformed doctrine of the Covenant of Works.
First, moral and natural law are distinct from the Covenant of Works. This is why the moral law is still useful after the Fall and continues to be relevant to believers under the Covenant of Grace. If the moral law was equivalent to the Covenant of Works, then it could not remain relevant to Christians, who are delivered from the Covenant of Works.
Second, God gave the moral law on Adam’s heart as a Covenant of Works. Prohibiting him to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil put his obedience to the test poignantly. This illustrates a special use of the moral law that was not inherent to its nature.
Third, while the terms of the Covenant of Works were legal, its promise of eternal life was gracious. Sin did not create the need for divine grace, but sin accentuated the nature of divine grace through Christ’s work as applied to his elect under the Covenant of Grace. All of these points help establish the nature of the Covenant of Works and the consequences of breaking it, which I will treat in the next post.
Ryan McGraw