Patrick Gillespie on the Covenant of Works (4)

This post is the final in a series of four (see #1, #2, #3), which outlines and annotates Patrick Gillespie’s (1617-1675) treatment of the Covenant of Works. In this section, Gillespie illustrates how Adam’s failure in the Covenant of Works paves way for the Covenant of Grace. I will conclude this section with some observations on his treatment of the Covenant of Works as a whole.
The material in [brackets] are my comments.
I. “How the breach of the covenant of works made way for the covenant of grace” (p. 207). [Mistakenly listed as “4” in Gillespie’s text]
A. Adam’s fall came by the Lord’s holy and wise providence. Adam did not fall by “bare permission” (207). [This affirms the Lord’s sovereignty over Adam’s Fall without alleviating his responsibility in breaking the covenant. See WCF 5.4 states similarly that God’s providence “extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with is a most wise powerful bounding … yet so as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God…”]
B. Yet there was no necessity of Adam’s sin neither was God “the author and cause of sin” (207). [See the end of WCF 5.4] There was a necessity by way of decree, but without violating the liberty of Adam’s will, “for all necessity is not contrary to freedom, but that which destroyeth spontaneous acting” (208). Divine necessity was not the moral cause of Adam’s obedience, but the physical cause only.
C. Want of influence and help from God to stand could not excuse Adam’s sin (207).
1. God was not bound by obligation to help him.
2. Man was bound by duty to depend upon God’s help, but God was not so bound to help him. God’s supernatural influences are not the rule of duty, but are exercises of his Sovereignty (207-208). [See comments in my previous post].
3. Adam only lacked influences of divine help by his own will and neglect (208).
4. God’s withdrawal of help followed Adam’s willingness to sin. (209). Citing Rutherford, Influence of the Life of Grace, 1.
5. Adam sinned willingly without compulsion and with delight in his sin (209). Gen. 3:6. [See WSC 13; WCF 6.1, which point to Adam and Eve being left to the council of their own wills and succumbing to Satan’s temptation, respectively]
D. The nature of Adam’s sin is best determined by Scripture. It is unnecessary to determine whether it was pride, pleasure, unbelief, or the want of divine influences (209). [For example, Wilhelmus a Brakel chose unbelief towards God and faith in Satan as the cause of the Fall] Rom. 5 calls it simply disobedience. Citing Augustine, Calvin, and Rivetus, further citing A. Burgess, Ball, Rutherford, Roberts, and Cocceius in the margin for more detail.
E. No man was predestined to life by means of the Covenant of Works, but only by the “way of free Gospel grace” obtained through faith in Christ (210). The Covenant of Works was not meant to continue but it gave way immediately to the first promise of the Covenant of Grace Gen. 3:15. (211). [In his commentary on Genesis 1-3, Westminster divine John While argued that this text pitted the woman against the Serpent, Christ against Satan, and Christ’s people against Satan’s people. Petrus van Mastricht included a similar construction in his chapter on the Covenant of Grace, which revolves around this text]
1. Adam made that way of life impossible through sin. Rom. 10:3, 3:20. 8:3 (211).
2. God repealed all saving intent of the Covenant of Works in order to bring in the promise of eternal life by the Covenant of Grace (211-212). [See Herman Witsius on the Covenants for a similar point] Rom. 3:11; 4:15.
3. God took the occasion of Adam’s fall to bring life and immortality to light through the Gospel. 1 Tim. 1:10 (212). This was to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:6) and to the increase of man’s happiness beyond his unfallen state. 1 Cor. 15:47.
4. The Lord used this opportunity to show the designs of his love in free grace (212).
a. By “setting up a new court of righteousness and life” through faith. Rom. 1:17; 3:21-22, etc.
b. If man will “come under the Covenant of Grace he shall be loosed from the sentence of the law.” Lk. 1:77-78; Rom. 7:4 (213).
c. The Lord keeps the Covenant of Works in force to convict men of their state of sin (213). Gal. 3:24-25; Rom. 10:4. [This explains why the commands and threats of the Covenant of Works remain under the Mosaic covenant, even though that Covenant was itself abolished as a way of life. Since the moral law constituted the terms of the Covenant of Works, the moral law always reminds sinners of the broken Covenant of Works without being conflated with that Covenant]
II. Uses (214)
A. The Covenant of Works shows the woeful condition of Adam’s posterity (214). Rom. 5; Jn. 5:24.
B. To humble man’s flesh and to beat down his pride under the consideration of what he lost through Adam (214). Rom. 7:24 (215).
C. “To admire the unsearchable riches of the Wisdom and Grace of God” (215). 2 Cor. 4:6. “Who but God could have raised man by his fall to a greater height of glory and happiness, could bring life out of death?” Rom. 5:20.
D. To excite us to change our covenant state “from Nature to Grace” (216).
1. All unregenerate man since the Fall continue under the Covenant of Works (217). Rom. 5:12. This includes both Original Sin and corruption of nature. [Original Sin entails the guilt of Adam’s first sin as well as the corruption of nature. Actual sin then flows from Original Sin as from a fountain. WSC 18]
2. A “short view” of those remaining under the Covenant of Works in order to alarm them to get out of that state (217).
a. He is in a state of bondage. Gal. 4:22ff, etc.
b. They are cut off from the hope of internal inheritance. Gal. 4:30; Eph. 2:12 (218).
c. They are under a covenant without a Mediator (218).
d. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.” Heb. 10:30-31 (218).
1. They must bring perfect obedience to God (219). Gal. 3:10.
2. Sin is imputed to them (219).
3. They have judgment without mercy and wrath without mixture (219).
4. This covenant rejects even their best works (219).
5. The Lord hates those who are under the Covenant of Works for their works’ sake (219).
6. All things become a curse to them (219). Ps. 69:22; Deut. 28:7. These things are preludi judicii futuri. [Trans: preludes to future judgments]
This last part of the outline brings Gillespie’s treatment of the Covenant of Works to practical resolution. It illustrates that Adam is responsible for the guilt of his sin under divine sovereignty and that those who have died in Adam are condemned in him as well. Yet the Covenant of Works was not the last word for fallen mankind. Not only did it result in the need for the Covenant of Grace, but the broken Covenant of Works paved the way for more excellent fellowship with God through redemption in Christ and our union with him through faith. The bottom line is that the gospel employs the Covenant of Works to drive sinners to Christ. The Covenant of Works could never serve this end apart from the gospel. We must recognize and acknowledge our sinfulness and misery in order to turn to Christ, who delivers us into “an estate of salvation” from both as our Redeemer (WSC 20).
Ryan McGraw