The Divine Dominion

The Divine Dominion

Power, as a divine attribute, leads us to consider the administration of it in God’s sovereign dominion. There are basically three ways in which God exercises or has exercised sovereign dominion over the created economy. We may as well call these “the three modes of His kingdom” or modes of His sovereign rule. First, through nature, God rules and reigns over the kingdom of creation, or what some have called “the common kingdom.” Second, through the typological-redemptive kingdom of Israel as revealed in the Old Testament. Third, through the kingdom of His grace which especially terminates upon His church, that is, God rules His church in a distinct way from that of Old Testament Israel and also the common kingdom.

Examining the Three Modes of Kingdom Rule

First, there is the kingdom of creation is God’s administration of His sovereign might through not only creation but also the providential ruling of all creation. In Isaiah 66:1, the LORD says, “Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool.” In psalm 103:19, we read, “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.” The kingdom of creation is God’s universal rule over the entirety of the natural world. The Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have an unlimited and unqualified rule over all the universe. It’s within this kingdom where we find the laws of nature, every society and culture of man, every civil institution, and every king and prince whom God is pleased to either establish or destroy.

This kingdom of creation is administered through covenants—the creational covenant between God and Adam, and following its violation, the second creational covenant which God made with Noah. The covenant of creation made in the garden, sometimes called a covenant of life or covenant of works, is mentioned in Hosea 6:7, where we read, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; There they dealt treacherously with Me.” Rashi, the Jewish Rabbi and Old Testament commentator of the middle ages agrees that this term, commonly translated “man” in English, ought to be translated to the proper name, “Adam.” Following the violation of this covenant, and proceeding the flood, God was pleased to make yet another covenant, this time with Noah, where He would regulate the world by civil justice on account of sin.

In addition to this kingdom of creation, which is nothing less than the administration of God’s sovereign might over all things, the Lord has been pleased to establish kingdoms within this kingdom. Not only are all the kings of the earth established under the creational kingdom, but on account of God’s special purpose, He establishes particular kingdoms through which He accomplishes His redemptive purpose in a very explicit way. And this brings us to the second way in which God has exercised His sovereign rule.

Second, there is the typological-redemptive kingdom of Israel, which came through the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants. Israel is God’s Old Testament nation, located right in the midst of the pagan world. And the purpose of His rule in and through that kingdom was chiefly the preservation of the Seed of the woman, the Lord Jesus Christ. Genesis 49:10 says, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.”

Third, God rules through His special grace the “kingdom of the Son of His love,” established in the blood of Christ. Colossians 1:13 states, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love…” And this is the kingdom wherein the Beatitudes we are promised as an inheritance, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3) And in Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God.” This is the kingdom mentioned in Matthew 12:28, when Jesus says, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Speaking to the religious elite, who rejected the “chief cornerstone,” Jesus says, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” (Matt. 21:43)

Conclusion

The purpose of this survey is to give an example of how our Lord administers His sovereign dominion in a multifaceted way: through creation, through Israel, and through the church. These are three domains, or three kingdoms. Interestingly enough, this doctrine of God’s sovereignty actually informs our political theology as Baptists. Whereas the kingdom of Israel is no more, there being only the kingdom of creation and the kingdom of the Son manifest in the church, we have two domains wherein God rules—two kingdoms.

When it comes to the kingdom of creation, God rules through prescripts (natural law) and providence. When it comes to Israel, God ruled through prescripts (natural + positive laws) and special providence. When it comes to the kingdom of grace, God rules through the incarnate Son, the Son’s law of love, and special, gracious providence, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…” (Phil. 1:6)

Trials & Their Outcome

Trials & Their Outcome

In James 1:2-3, James begins his letter with a near-paradoxical consolation. Trials are nasty. And we are all bound to experience them to one extent or another. But here, James gives us a sound reason for why Christians should remain joyful in the midst of affliction. Let’s look at our text under four headings: (1) the command to joyfulness; (2) the occasion; (3) the ground of joy; and (4) the outcome of the testing of faith.

The Command To Joyfulness

James begins by addressing his words to his “brethren…” These are not merely brethren according to the flesh (they do seem to be Jewish converts along with James), but they are brethren according to the Christian faith, as v. 3 makes plain. And he commands his brethren to, “count it all joy…” Or, “consider it joy…” This is a command and an encouragement to count those things as joy which the world would count as occasions for despair and cynicism. Joy here is not to be taken as a fleeting emotion or passion, but a perennial disposition of the Christian person grounded in the knowledge of faith. This is a gladness to be had by the Christian.

The Occasion

As mentioned, the occasion is that which the world would deem undesirable. The world teaches us to escape our issues and problems. The Christian faith teaches us to trust God and embrace what God sends our way with gladness. And in this case, James has trials in view. These trials are not specified. They could be anything from persecution to false teaching; from financial hardship to famine, etc. In our context, we might think of political upheaval, job losses, general uncertainty, economic unsurety, cultural perversity, etc. James says that upon the occasion of falling into any one of these trials, we should “count it all joy.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that we ought to be glad for wickedness itself, but for what God is doing for us in spite of it and even through it.

And this brings us to the ground of our joy in trials. What does the Christian have that the world doesn’t have which allows the Christian to count these trials as instances of joy rather than despair?

The Ground of Joy

James began his letter with what he will assume throughout: the possession of the good news of Jesus Christ and our slavehood to Him (Jas. 1:1)—in both trial and tribulation. But in v. 3, he adds a further reason why the Christian ought to have gladness in tribulation, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” The reason for gladness, in this case, is essentially Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” God is doing something for us, even in the midst of trial, and for that we ought to be grateful. We ought not try to thwart God’s providences, we ought not shake our fist to heaven. We must be grateful for what God is achieving in us through trial, trusting that a trial is a providential test for our good.

The Outcome of the Testing of Faith

By the way, What is a test?

A test is a metallurgical procedure whereby a metal is purified from its ore. Our faith is the precious metal buried in the human being, which is like ore, having many imperfections. And this spiritual testing of faith purifies the faith in the believing subject which in turn results in a stronger substance, able to take the beating of the world. Hence, such testing “produces patience,” or, more accurately, “perseverance.” How pure and how strong would our faith be without trial? Constant world-comforts often lead us to a  growing complacency and laziness. But God is pleased to refine us, like metal, through the fires of trial. Through these means, He casts our attention upon Him rather than the pleasures of this life. Through trial, He increases our trust and comfort in Him whilst weaning us from our trust and comforts in the world.

What Does Jesus Think About Adultery?

What Does Jesus Think About Adultery?

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the very God who inspired the Mosaic law. Therefore, when in His incarnate state He teaches us the law, His interpretation of it is the full and perfect exposition of the true sense of the law. Remember, Jesus did not come to eradicate the law, but to perfect or complete it. (Matt. 5:17) Christ is the point at which the law finally meets its goal. So, when He apparently sets Himself against the law, we have to remember that He’s not contradicting what He Himself revealed to Moses all those years ago. Instead, He’s teaching the fuller sense of the law, and in the process, He is rebuking and correcting what we might call a Pharisaical “letter of the law onlyism.”

Matthew 5:28 & Our Lord’s Teaching on Adultery

After stating the letter of the law, He says, “But I say to you…” He does not appeal to another authority outside Himself. He does not, as the prophets of old did, begin His message with, “Thus saith the LORD.” He just says, “I say to you.” The Author of the law comes to deliver the law according to its fuller sense.

He internalizes the command forbidding adultery, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Just as Jesus forbids soul-murder, (Matt. 5:21-22) here He forbids soul-adultery. We need to make a few observations regarding v. 28. First, what is it to “look at a woman to lust for her”? Second, what forms do this “looking,” and the resulting adultery take? Third, how is this adultery especially present and promoted in our culture today?

What is it to “look at a woman to lust for her”? It is probably necessary to note at the outset that this doesn’t apply to physical, and even sexual attraction, which is good and right. It is right for a man to be sexually attracted to a female, and a female to be sexually attracted to a male so long as that attraction is aimed toward marriage and occurring within the context of marriage. Sexual desire is good when ordered properly. Lust, however, is an inordinate sexual desire out of step with God’s purposes in and for creation.

Frederick Dale Bruner notes how the Christian church has both overreacted and under-reacted to this commandment throughout history. He writes, “The early church in particular tightened Jesus’ Command too intensely as the result of an occasionally dualistic antipathy to sex of to pleasure as sinful…”[1] And this is why forced celibacy of clergy and celibacy in general came to be seen as an exalted Christian virtue whilst marriage was more or less perceived as a necessary evil for those who couldn’t control their sexual desires. But Bruner then notes a more modern interpretation of the text. He goes on to say, “But later a losing occurred under the influence of an increasing secularity, where, for example, some interpreters said that Jesus did not forbid looking to lust at a woman but to lust at someone else’s wife…”[2]

Thus, Jesus’ words came to be understood by the modernist not as an exposition of the seventh commandment, but was limited only to the tenth, which says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Ex. 20:17) According to this interpretation, lust is perfectly acceptable, so long as it isn’t toward someone else’s wife. But this couldn’t be a more fatal mistake.

The language of the phrase, “look at a woman to lust for her,” is notable. Given the preposition in, “to lust for her,” we might render it, “look at a woman in order to lust for her.” In view here is an extremely foreboding law that condemns the very look, even prior to the formal act of lust. A look that is intended to lust is what is here identified as spiritual adultery according to Christ Himself. A look or a glance ordered to lust is what is what Jesus condemns. And this brings us to the several forms such a look takes.

Forms of “Lustful Looking”

What forms does this “adultery of the eyes” take? Given the all-encompassing nature of the commandment, there is a twofold restriction: First, against lustful intent. And second, against the steps taken in order to lust, i.e., looking, seeing, or viewing. And this means the following are here expressly forbidden and condemned by our Lord:

Perverse thoughts. All sexual thoughts the include non-marital or extra-martial sexual relations of any kind are here forbidden by our Lord.

Looking at someone else with non-marital sexual intent. That glance at that woman or man at the mall, at school, or at work, which has a non-marital sexual character is explicitly declared a sin by our Lord.

Viewing pornography. Men and women are good enough at conjuring up adulterous images in their imaginations apart from pornography, but pornography plays on this already-present sin by adding fuel to the fire. It sets the mind and flesh on fire with an inordinate passion toward another person—not for their personality, not for their value as a human being, but as an object to be used and abused for one’s sexual pleasure. As Bruner puts it, the woman or man in the magazine or on the website “is no longer really a unique human being; she or he is not simply kindling, tinder, a thing; a way for one to enjoy oneself, to express oneself, to feel one’s powers.”

Conclusion

According to Jesus, the very look ordered to the purpose of lust is itself sin. We, of course, are aware of the obvious cases of adultery found in society—extra-marital sex and explicit violations of the marriage covenant by either husbands or wives. But we are less sensitive to those forms of adultery which go unnoticed by other people. Invisible to man, yet visible to God, adultery of the heart—including looking at another person with lustful intent—is less of a concern. Even worse, it’s generally accepted as a cultural norm. Everybody’s doin’ it!

But make no mistake, if imbibed and habitually practiced, apart from the twin graces of faith and repentance in and to Jesus Christ this invisible sin will do two things: It will, first, destroy your soul. And, second, it will eventually manifest itself in outward relationships in a very visible, destructive way. Silent sins eventually become very loud. The bosom sin of internal adultery is a poison that tastes sweet, but nevertheless kills.

Resources:

[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook, Vol. I, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), 221.

[2] Ibid., 220.

Our Pilgrimage

Our Pilgrimage

When the Bible calls believers “pilgrims,” what does it mean?

A pilgrim, traditionally understood, is a sojourner in a land that is not his own. Usually, this sojourner is a temporary resident in view of traveling to some other destination. And there are three senses in which Christians are pilgrims. They are pilgrims in the world of sin, they are pilgrims on the earth, and they are pilgrims in heaven.

Pilgrims in the World of Sin

Christians are pilgrims in the world of sin simply because the world of sin is not their home. The apostle Peter writes, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul…” (1 Pet. 2:11) The world of sin ought to be strange to us and we ought to be strange to it. We are in this world, but should not be of it. (Jn. 17:15) Thus, as good sojourners and ambassadors of our heavenly homeland, we travel through and we travel through as strangers.

Pilgrims On the Earth

The first kind of pilgrimage is uncontroversial. This one, however, may draw some controversy who believe the present earth is our final home. However, Hebrews 11:13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” The “earth” no doubt refers to the land of Canaan. This statement has a far reaching redemptive significance. But the principle point remains. On a microcosmic scale, Canaan was given to God’s people. It was a good land. On a macrocosmic scale, the entire earth was given to man, and it is a good land. But being a good land doesn’t make it our final land. Canaan was good, but it wasn’t the final resting place of God’s people. It was but a type of something greater. So too does this present earth point beyond itself to something more glorious.

We receive exhortations in places like Colossians 3:2, where Paul writes, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” We are to look beyond the earth to that which we will receive in Christ which is an heavenly inheritance. There is something yet greater to which we look. Earth is good, but it cannot compare to the glories of heaven.

It is worth noting that this present earth is that on which we are pilgrims. There is going to be a time when Christ judges the inhabitants of the earth, rids it of all wickedness, and brings it into the light of His glory. “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:19)

Pilgrims in Heaven

In a special sense, Christians are strangers in heaven… for now. And this is because prior to the resurrection, Christians are in the intermediate state. Though in heaven with God, they yet look to the resurrection when they will be made whole in Christ. Presently, even in heaven, Christians have an eschatology to which they look. This resurrection is what Paul alludes to in 2 Corinthians 5:1, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

Christians in heaven are in the place of their eternal destiny. So they are not strangers in the sense of being in a strange land. Rather, they are pilgrims or strangers with regard to state. Man was made body and soul, and redemption entails the eschatological reunification of soul to body upon the resurrection from the dead, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Cor. 15:52)

Divine Immutability According to Scripture

Divine Immutability According to Scripture

One of the clearest texts to teach immutability in Scripture is Malachi 3:6. But it’s probably worth briefly showing how immutability is assumed and found throughout the Scriptures. The first text to teach immutability is Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Hebrew term for “beginning” (רֵאשִׁית) indicates the first moment of a succession of moments, and in this case, the first moment in the succession of all moments that ever were, are, or will ever be. God gives being to that which accounts for motion in the first place—time, space, and matter. Motion is impossible apart from those three things. And since God created those three things, it must be that He is before all of them, wholly transcendent of them, and thus not subject to them.

The immutable God is declared in the very first verse of Scripture. In Numbers 23:19, we read, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoke, and will He not make it good?” Whereas repentance is a change in the intellect and will, we are told here God does not undergo such. And in James 1:17, we are told, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” Francis Turretin tells us that in this text:

Not only change is denied of him, but even the shadow of change, that he may be contrasted with the sun, the fountain of material light, liable to various changes and eclipses by which its light is intercepted. But God, the father of lights, acknowledges no tropics and can be obscured by no clouds since there is nothing to intercept his influence.[1]

In Malachi 3:6, we read, “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” There are four parts to this text: (1) God’s declaration of Himself as YHWH, (2) an inference drawn from what He is, “I do not change,” (3) an application to the created economy, “Therefore you are not consumed,” and (4) the beneficiaries of this unchangeable God’s favor, “O sons of Jacob.”

First, God’s sacred, covenant name, YHWH, is at once a name and a declaration of His own self-existence and independence from the creation. When God manifested His presence at the unburning bush in Exodus 3, He demonstrates His self-existence in that the fire appeared, enveloped the bush, yet did not depend upon the bush for its fuel. It was a picture of the unchanging God uniting the creation to Himself through His grace, but also a reminder that God does not need His creation to be God. Malachi 3:6 is an application of that self-existence in terms of God’s unchangeableness. God is self-existent and is thus unaffected by His creation. Creation does not leave an impression on Him. He does not change. He is sure. He is infinitely stable. Though this world waxes and wanes, though the people plot in vain, God does not change. He is the everlastingly cheerful and blessed God who rules creation. Creation does not rule Him.

Second, because His name implies all of this concerning His nature, He declares it plainly, “I do not change.” He does not say, “I do not change in this or that faculty,” or, “I do not change in this or that sense.” Rather, this is an absolute denial of change in God. The term used for “change” denotes the dying of a cloth. A white cloth may be dyed in several shades and colors of dye such that the cloth becomes different in some way. But, unlike a dyed garment, God does not become other than He is, in any sense. Not even in the sense that God remains God while something changes in Him or about Him. When a cloth is dyed, it remains a cloth even though something about it has changed. Even this kind of change is denied of God in these words.

Third, because of God’s stability and unchangeableness, God’s people are not consumed. God’s promises are only as sure as God Himself. God’s promise of grace and mercy toward His people rests in the cradle of God’s immutable nature. If God’s changed, God’s people would have no assurance of what God said. Furthermore, the whole of the Scriptures could become entirely inaccurate tomorrow. If God could change, what He promises could change too.

Fourth, the people or beneficiaries are God’s covenant people. While God does not change, He can affect change in the creation. He removes kings and sets up kings. (Dan. 2:21) But when paired with His promise to do no such thing, but to maintain His people, a promise which comes only through covenant given to that people, God will no wise change their situation to be other than what He promises through covenant. For example, the world cannot hope for a sure and stable salvation because they do not receive the sure and stable salvation that comes through a sure and stable covenant that comes from a sure and stable God. God can change and abolish covenants, but those changes are not in God, they are in His covenants and in His people. Furthermore, those changes in covenants are according to the terms of the covenants themselves which God promised. So, when the Old Covenant is abolished, according to Hebrews 8:13, it is abolished in accordance with what God had already promised to do, that is, to set up a new covenant in the blood of Christ. (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:7-12)

Conclusion

God does not change. While He affects change in His creation, there is yet no change in Him. Though He sets up kings and removes kings, changes the borders  of the nations regularly, brings disasters and prosperity upon God’s people seasonally, yet there is no change in God.

Resources:

[1] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. I, (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1992), 205.

Covenant Theology IV | The Covenant of Works

Covenant Theology IV | The Covenant of Works

So far, we’ve addressed exegetical assumptions which lie behind covenant theology in general. These did not get us to the key differences between 1689 federalism and paedobaptist federalism, but they did help us to contrast our hermeneutics with those of Henebury’s. We have also looked, briefly, at the covenant of redemption. In the event Henebury is writing an explainer rather than a critique, his material on the covenant of redemption fell far short on what would have been considered sufficient. He dealt incompletely with his interlocutors and, in doing so, was unable to produce for his readers a clear picture of what the covenant of redemption is along with its exegetical groundwork. I want to be clear, I am not accusing Henebury of purposeful omission. It is just my honest opinion that he lacked thoroughness.

In his fourth and fifth articles he attempts to deal with the covenant of works. I will take this opportunity to address both in one. In his fourth article, he concludes by saying, “I shall continue next time by looking more at what CT’s say about the covenant of works before looking at what the Bible has to say about it.” However, in the fifth installment, there is very little interaction with Scripture. I would urge those reading both his and my posts to pay careful attention to Henebury’s appeal to Scripture, whether there is one, and whether or not such appeals offer exegetical demonstration or are simply claims about what the text says.

An Innovative Hermeneutic

This is as good a time as any to discuss what Henebury calls the “Rules of Affinity.” He calls these rules a “grid of category formulations.” This is fascinating, especially since one of Henebury’s charges against covenant theology is its inherent reliance upon deduction. It’s also interesting for the very fact that it’s apparently brand new. Where are these rules in the history of the church? In the Bible itself? Has the church missed it for 2,000 years? We should exercise extreme caution when it comes to interpretive and theological innovations. Christianity is very old. New is rare, and when something new is discovered, it’s not by a single individual. The Bible was written to the elect (plural), not an elect individual. We must do theology in community for the sake of accountability.

Henebury proposes five a priori categories for guiding the interpretive task. I will not write at length to explain these categories, but they are listed below:

C1: a doctrinal proposition based on a straightforward quotation of Scripture.

 

C2: a proposition based on a strong inference from the witness of several C1 passages combined, thus producing an inevitable doctrinal conclusion.

 

C3: a doctrinal proposition based upon a plausible inference from the shared witness of the cumulative direction of C1 and C2 texts of Scripture.

 

C4: a proposition based on a theological inference usually from another doctrine instead of any plain statement of Scripture.

 

C5: a proposition based on a theological inference which itself based on other theological inferences without reference to plain statements of Scripture.

These categories represent an a priorism in Henebury’s method which, by definition, requires deduction. An a priori category, or assumption, is that which comes prior to conclusions one may hold as a result of said assumption. Furthermore, since Henebury, I believe, has misunderstood the hermeneutical axiom of “good and necessary consequence” (or inference), his (C2) is essentially a restatement of “good and necessary consequence” as it has been historically understood. There isn’t a formal difference between (C2) and the confessional notion of inference. Regardless of this apparent inconsistency, I can appreciate our agreement on this point.

A necessary conclusion is a conclusion which follows necessarily from two or more premises. In this case, the premises would be explicit data points in Scripture necessitating a certain doctrinal conclusion not explicitly stated. This is stronger than plausibility. A plausible conclusion is one that seems reasonable and lacks compelling force. A necessary conclusion is one that follows from premises, and, given the truth of the premises, cannot be false. An example of a doctrine gleaned from good and necessary consequence is the doctrine of the Trinity—that God is one essence subsisting in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We would, hopefully, not venture to say the doctrine of the Trinity is merely plausible, but necessary for a Christian to be, well, a Christian.

My purpose is not to spend too much time here. It is only to once again point out the fact that Henebury has his own a priori assumptions he makes in drawing interpretive conclusions. This, in itself, is not wrong. Again, the question is: Does he make true assumptions? I would say that he does not, for the simple reason that biblical interpretation is not always reducible to plausible conclusions, given the laws of logic and the principle of causality. But this is not the place for a full-blown examination of the “Rules of Affinity.” Moving on.

What Is the Covenant of Works?

Quoting Brown & Keele, Henebury defines the covenant of works as follows, “God’s commitment to give Adam, and his posterity in him, eternal life for obedience or eternal death for disobedience.” He offers a secondary definition from O. Palmer Robertson:

The creation bond between God and man may be discussed in terms of its general and its focal aspects. The general aspect of the covenant of creation [aka “works”] relates to the broader responsibilities of man to his Creator. The focal aspect of the covenant…relates to the more specific responsibility of man arising from the special point of probation or testing instituted by God.

Brown & Keel’s definition is sufficient for our purposes here. In substance, all that is meant by “covenant of works” is the divine imposition of conditions upon man in the garden with blessings for obedience to those conditions and curses for failing to obey. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1677/89) puts it this way, “…God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof…” (2LBCF, 6.1) While there is disagreement as to the nuances of Adam’s eschatology, the definitive core of the covenant of works concerns the above—a law, blessing for obedience, curse for disobedience. This is distinct from the new covenant (covenant of grace) which is not conditioned upon our obedience. Adam broke covenant with God, received the penalty for himself and his posterity. Christ keeps covenant with God, recevies the blessings of obedience for Himself and His posterity (those who are born again).

Is the Covenant of Works Built Upon Mere Conjecture?

While Henebury claims that all this sits upon inference after inference, this is not the case. God certainly does give Adam a law, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Gen. 2:16-17) The Hebrew term for “command” (swh) is the same term used within the context of the giving of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 19:7, “So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him.” Furthermore, God gives a blessing, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat…” “Every tree” certainly includes the tree of life. God also issues a curse in the event of disobedience, “for in the day that you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die.” This is all that is required for a covenant of works in the garden. The curse in Genesis 3 exposes more details about what is entailed here. All men die in Adam; hence, our federal theology. (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22)

Henebury does not interact with any of this. Instead, he says:

As there are zero examples of oaths taken in respect to the covenants of redemption, works, or grace in Scripture, what we have is yet another inference taken from reading the biblical covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, Davidic, and New) and supposing that the “covenants” of CT do the same thing as those clear covenants stipulate.

Of course, such a statement takes for granted his very own deduction, namely, that every covenant must include a formal oath given that some covenants in Scripture do. But where does the Bible itself require this of every covenant? We know oath-making is a feature of covenants among men, “For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.” (Heb. 6:16) And we know that God has made a covenant with an oath, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath…” (Heb. 6:17) But such an oath was by way of confirmation, something wholly unnecessary for men prior to the fall. For Adam had certain knowledge of God and His will apart from any doubt. He wasn’t in a state of misery rendering him needful of a guarantee, which is the very purpose of oaths in the first place—to offer assurance to the vassal party of the Suzerain’s faithfulness.

In his fifth article, he writes, “In my view the biblical doctrine of the atonement does not require a doctrine of Christ’s ‘active obedience.’ The fact of the matter is that the Bible does not say that Christ’s perfect life atones in any way for either Adam’s sin or for our failure to live righteously.” Depending on how Henebury is using the term “atone,” this statement is disconcerting, and it shows us the consequence of failing to “get the garden right.”[1] If Christ did not live perfectly for us under the law, all humanity is doomed. His active obedience is directly related to our right standing before God. The necessity of Christ’s perfect life lived unto God under the law is made clear in texts like Romans 5:10, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” 

One might be tempted here to reduce “life” to Christ’s resurrection. But Christ’s resurrection would be impossible apart from His active obedience. Furthermore, Jesus Himself says, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.” (Jn. 14:19) Here, the verb in the phrase, “Because I live,” is in the present tense. The whole of Christ’s life is here in view, including that which the disciples were then in the process of experiencing prior to His resurrection. 

Philippians 2:8-9 shows us that Christ’s exaltation, of which His resurrection was a part, was the conclusive result of His active and passive obedience, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name…” Romans 5:14 explicitly compares Adam with Christ, construing the first Adam as a type, or pattern, of the one who was to come, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” But if Adam is an imperfect pattern of our Lord, then his responsibility before God anticipates the responsibility of Christ before God in the stead of Adam’s sinful posterity. And this just means that getting Adam wrong is to risk getting the gospel itself wrong.

Henebury goes on to say:

As for the biblical merits of the Covenant of Works it has to be said that they are slim. The arguments that are constructed for it out of Scripture and reason are all propounded on the basis of eisegesis. That is to say, the texts of Scripture are not being expounded to see what they say in the places where they say it, but are being located and dug-out of their contexts…

However, if Christ came as the antitypical fulfillment of the first Adam, as Romans 5:14 declares, a covenant of works appears necessary. Christ came to merit the life Adam himself failed to obtain for his posterity. “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor. 15:21)

Conclusion

In light of the above, which is only the tip of the iceberg, I hope it can be seen that the “biblical merits of the Covenant of Works” are anything other than slim. Apart from quoting another author questioning the biblical warrant for a covenant of works in the garden, Henebury never actually interacts with any of the exegesis used in support of the covenant of works from “our side.” To claim the covenant of works is the product of “eisegesis,” Henebury at least needs to show this to be the case. He does not do this. The lack of biblical engagement gives the impression that Henebury effortlessly writes off his interlocutors simply because they disagree with his preconceived system.

Resources

[1] Richard Barcellos, Getting the Garden Right, (Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2021).