The Covenant of Works

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Order of Contents

Articles
Books
History of the Doctrine
Was Christ under the Covenant of Works?

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Articles

1500’s

Rollock, Robert

ed. Aaron C. Denlinger, ‘Robert Rollock’s Catechism on God’s Covenants’  MAJT 20 (2009): 105-129

‘Of the Word of God, or of the Covenant in General, and of the Covenant of Works in Special’  †1599  5 pp.  being ch. 2 of A Treatise of Effectual Calling, chapters 3-5 are also relevant.

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1700’s

Anonymous – ‘A Short and Plain Account of the Two Covenants: the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace’  (Salop, 1761)  in Nature and Grace: or, Some Essential Differences between the Sentiments of the Natural and Spiritual Man, in Things Pertaining to Everlasting Salvation, to which is added, A Short and Plain Account of the Two Covenants, Namely the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace  (London, 1795), pp. 8-11

Brown of Haddington, John – Book 3, ch. 1, ‘Of the Covenant of Works’  in A Compendious View of Natural & Revealed Religion in Seven Books  (Glasgow, 1782)

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1800’s

Wood, Basil – A Concise Statement of the Two Covenants, the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, or, The Law & the Gospel  (London, 1805)  17 pp.

Morgan, James – A Sermon on the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace  Ref  (Abingdon, VA, 1818)

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1900’s

Berkhof, Louis – Man in the Covenant of Works, HTML, 1949, 19 paragraphs from his Systematic Theology

Venema, Cornelius P. – ‘Recent Criticisms of the Covenant of Works in the Westminster Confession of Faith’  Mid-America Journal of Theology, vol. 9/3, Fall 1993, pp. 165-198

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2000’s

Sproul, R.C. – ‘The Covenant of Works’  5 paragraphs

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Books

1600’s

Walker, George – The Manifold Wisdom of God. In the divers dispensation of grace by Jesus Christ, in the Old New Testament, in the Covenant of faith, works. Their agreement and difference  (London, 1641)

Walker (bap.1582-1651) was an English clergyman, known for his strong Puritan views.

Calamy, Edmund – Two Solemn Covenants made between God and man : viz. the covenant of Works, and the covenant of Grace. Clearly laid open, distinguished, and vindicated from many dangerous opinions; the right knowledge of which will be very profitable to all those that have escaped the first, and are confirmed in the second…  (London, 1647)

Calamy the Elder (1600-1666) was a Westminster divine.

Rutherford, Samuel

A Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist: Opening the Secrets of Familism and Antinomianism…  and diverse considerable points of the law and the Gospel, of the spirit and letter, of the two Covenants, of the nature of free grace, exercise under temptations, mortification, justification, sanctification, are discovered: In two parts  (London, 1648)

The Covenant of Life Opened, or a Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, containing something of The Nature of the Covenant of Works, The Sovereignty of God, the extent of the death of Christ, the Nature & Properties of the Covenant of Grace: and especially of the Covenant of Suretyship or Redemption between the Lord and the Son Jesus Christ, Infants right to Jesus Christ, and the Seal of Baptism, with some Practical Questions and Observations  (Edinburgh, 1655)

Bulkeley, Peter – The Gospel-Covenant, or, The Covenant of Grace Opened: wherein are explained, 1. The differences betwixt the Covenant of Grace and Covenant of Works. 2. The different administration of the Covenant before and since Christ. 3. The benefits and blessings of it. 4. The condition. 5. The properties of it; preached in Concord in New-England  (London, 1653)

Bulkeley (1583-1659) was an influential early, non-conformist Puritan minister who left England for greater religious freedom in the American colony of Massachusetts.

Strong, William – A Discourse of the Two Covenants: wherein the Nature, Differences and Effects of the Covenant of Works and of Grace are Distinctly, Rationally, Spiritually and Practically Discussed; together with a Considerable Quantity of Practical Cases Dependent Thereon  (London, 1654/1678)

Strong (d. 1654) was an English, Independent divine.

Fisher, Edward – The Marrow of Modern Divinity… with notes by the Rev. Thomas Boston  (d. 1655; Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board, 1850)

Blake, Thomas – Vindiciæ Foederis, or, A Treatise of the Covenant of God entered with mankind in the several kinds and degrees of it, in which the agreement and respective differences of the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, of the Old and New Covenant are Discussed  (London, 1658)  Table of Contents

Blake (c.1596-1657) was an English Puritan clergyman and controversialist of moderate Presbyterian sympathies.

Flavel, John – Vindiciæ Legis & Fœderis: or, A Reply to Mr. Philip Cary’s Solemn Call, wherein he pretends to answer all the arguments of Mr. Allen, Mr. Baxter, Mr. Sydenham, Mr. Sedgwick, Mr. Roberts, and Dr. Burthogge for the right of believers’ infants to baptism, by proving the Law at Sinai, and the Covenant of Circumcision with Abraham, were the very same with Adam’s Covenant of Works, and that because the Gospel-Covenant is Absolute  (London, 1690)

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1700’s

Hopkins, Ezekiel – The Doctrine of the Two Covenants, wherein the Nature of Original Sin is at large explained… with a discourse of glorifying God in his attributes  (London, 1712)  Table of Contents  This is also in vol. 2 of his Works.

Hopkins (1634-1690) was a reformed, Anglican divine in the Church of Ireland.

Hog, James – Some Select Notes Towards Detecting a Covered Mixture of the Covenant of Works, and of Grace: With the Danger of that Evil; and a Few Advices for Remedying Thereof. Contained in a Letter to a Friend Upon the Head  Ref  1718  20 pp.

Hog (c.1658-1734) was a Scottish minister at Carnock, known for his role in the Marrow Controversy within the Church of Scotland.

Taylor, Richard – Discourses on the Fall and Misery of Man: and on the Covenant of Grace  Ref  1725  379 pp.  Pages 1-2 give the title to the first part of this work as “Of the state of man by creation; and of the covenant of works”

Herman Witsius footnotes this work under the statement:  “The formularies of the Protestant Churches in general, and the writings of the most eminent Reformed Divines…” – On the Apostles’ Creed, Note XII, p. 386

Wilson, David – Palæmon’s Creed Reviewed and Examined: wherein several gross and dangerous errors, advanced by the author of the Letters on Theron and Aspasio, are detected and refuted; and the Protestant doctrine concerning the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, Conviction of Sin, Regeneration, Faith, Justification, Inherent Grace, etc., vindicated from the cavils and exceptions of that Author, and shown to be entirely conformable to the Apostolic Doctrine concerning the several points afore-mentioned, vol. 1, 2  (London, 1762)

Wikipedia:  “Theron and Aspasio, or a series of Letters upon the most important and interesting Subjects [by James Hervey, 1724-58, an Anglican clergyman], which appeared in 1755, and was equally well received, called forth some adverse criticism even from Calvinists, on account of tendencies which were considered to lead to antinomianism, and was strongly objected to by Wesley in his Preservative against unsettled Notions in Religion.

Besides carrying into England the theological disputes to which the Marrow of Modern Divinity had given rise in Scotland (the Marrow Controversy), it also led to what is known as the Sandemanian controversy as to the nature of saving faith.”

Mellen, John – Fifteen Discourses upon Doctrinal, connected Subjects: with practical improvements, viz. On the primitive Covenant of Work, or Law of Nature.  On the eternal obligation of the Law of Nature. On the universal condemnation of sinners by the law and Covenant of Works.  On the impossibility of the sinner’s justification, by the law, in the sight of God. On the imputation of righteousness without works. On the Covenant of Grace in general, or divine reconciliation.  On the Covenant of Redemption, or mediation.  On the first covenant, or law of Moses. On the second or better covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ. On faith and its connection with justification and holiness. Objections to the doctrine of justification in the vicarial way answered, and its consistence with the reward of virtue demonstrated.  On Christian obedience as a New-Covenant Condition. On the perseverance of the saints, and final salvation of believers. On the final judgment, and justification and condemnation in that day. Recapitulation and reflections relative to the whole  (Boston, 1765)  570 pp.  Table of contents

Mellen appears to be fully orthodox.  While maintaining justification by faith alone, he understands Christian obedience as a New-Covenant condition to be in respect of non-meritorious consequent conditions, as the Reformed Orthodox held.  See the Intro to the page, The Necessity of Good Works.

Gib, Adam – Kaina kai Palaia [New & Old], Sacred Contemplations in 3 Parts, I. A View of the Covenant of Works…  II. A View of the Covenant of Grace…  3. A View of the Absolute and Immediate Dependence of All things on God…  (Philadelphia, 1788)

Gib was a leading Scottish secession minister of the old lights.

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1800’s

Duncan, James – A Treatise on the Covenant of Works, Man’s fall and his recovery through Jesus Christ  Ref  (Pittsburgh, 1813)

Colquhoun, John – A Treatise on the Covenant of Works  (Edinburgh, 1821)  300 pp.

Colquhoun was a very experiential, evangelical Church of Scotland minister.

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2000’s

Gault, Brian C. – The Covenant of Creation: an Exegetical and Theological Investigation of the image of God in Genesis 1:26-28 as the sign and seal of the covenant of creation, and of the covenant of works in Genesis 2:16-17 as the fourth stipulation of the covenant of creation  a Masters Thesis (Reformed Theological Seminary, 2003)

Barcellos, Richard C. – The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis (Recovering Our Confessional Heritage)  Buy  (Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2016)

Barcellos is a Particular Baptist.

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On the History of the Doctrine of the Covenant of Works

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Medieval Church

Foord, Marty – ‘The Covenant of Works Pre-Reformation’  2014  4 paragraphs, blog post 

Foord has found a proto-Covenant-of-Works in Gregory the Great’s (540-604) Moralia on Job and in Boethius’ (480-524/5) De Fide Catholica.  The latter quote is given in full.

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At the Reformation:  1500’s

Romanist

Dissertation

Denlinger, Aaron Clay – Ambrogio Catarino’s doctrine of covenantal solidarity with Adam and its influence on post-reformation reformed theologians  (Univ. of Aberdeen, 2009)

Catarino was a Romanist who, in 1532, seems to have been the first one to expressly and more fully develop the notion of a covenant based on works between Adam and God.  This served as a precedent for reformed theology’s later development of the Covenant of Works.

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By the Reformed

Quotes

Andrew Woolsey, Unity and Continuity in Covenantal Thought (RHB, 2012), p. 145

“He [Sherman Isbell] followed Althaus in seeing Melancthon’s natural law theory as underlying Ursinus’s development of foedus naturale.  Isbell claimed Fenner was “[t]he first Reformed theologian to print the phrase foedus operum,” and Rollock as “the first to use it in direct reference to Adam’s state of innocency,” at a time when the idea of the covenant was beginning to attain significance as an organizing principle of theology.”

Aaron C. Denlinger, ‘Robert Rollock’s Catechism on God’s Covenants’  MAJT 20 (2009), pp. 106 & 108

“The notion of a pre-fall covenant between God and humankind…  was first explicitly articulated by the Heidelberg theologians Zacharias Ursinus (in his 1584 Catechesis Major) and Caspar Olevianus (in his 1585 De substantia foederis gratuiti inter Deum et electos).  The specific terminology of a “covenant of works” (foedus operum) was employed by Puritan theologians Dudley Fenner (in his 1585 Sacra Theologia) and William Perkins (in his 1591 Golden Chain).  Continental theologians Amandus Polanus, Franciscus Gomarus, and Johannes Piscator each made mention of a pre-fall covenant with Adam in their works.  However, these theologians did not discover quite the theological potential in that notion that Rollock did.  Lyle Bierma’s judgment regarding Olevianus’s treatment of the pre-fall covenant is worth noting here.  He writes:

“Unlike Cocceius and the Puritan covenant theologians of the
seventeenth century, Olevianus does not treat the covenant of creation as the biblical-historical or theological foil for the covenant of grace.  Never once does he directly compare or contrast the two.”

This observation could be extended to each of those theologians who had, by the time that Rollock published his catechism [1596], made reference to the pre-fall covenant.  But in Rollock’s work the practice of comparing and contrasting the covenants of works and grace is perfected.  And thus, in Rollock’s catechism, the twofold covenant scheme, barely developed by previous authors, assumes a structural significance that it lacks in earlier Reformed literature.

It would be wrong, perhaps, to suggest that Rollock employs a twofold covenant scheme to structure his theology in toto—this catechism is, after all, specifically concerned with “God’s covenant” (and thus with particular anthropological, christological, and soteriological points); it is not a catechetical summa theologiae.  But certainly one might say, on the basis of this work, that Rollock utilizes the twofold covenant scheme to structure—in a way that is genuinely unique for his time—an holistic account of humankind’s initial creation in God’s image, fall through Adam’s sin, redemption by virtue of Christ’s saving work, and progress towards eternal life.  In Rollock’s catechism, then, the polarity
between the covenant of works and covenant of grace serves, quite simply, to maintain and uphold very basic Protestant reformational distinctives—distinctives such as the singular role of grace, faith, and Christ in the economy of salvation (the Reformation “solas”), and the difference between law (God’s promise of benefit to the individual contingent upon his/her obedience) and gospel (God’s promise of benefit to the individual contingent upon Christ’s obedience).

Indeed, if the particular manner in which a theologian employs the notion of a pre-fall covenant of works is taken into consideration (in addition to the mere affirmation, by a theologian, of such a covenant), one might plausibly suggest Rollock to be, on the basis of this catechism, the first genuine covenant theologian in the Reformed tradition. Such a suggestion would, at least, serve to highlight the ways in which his covenantal thinking built upon the work of previous theologians, rather than simply reiterating it, and also anticipated the work of later Reformed thinkers.”

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Theses

Isbell, Sherman – The Origin of the Concept of the Covenant of Works  Ref  Masters Thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary (1976), 192 pp.

“…a study by Isbell Sherman. He traces the development of federal theology through Wolfgang Musculus, Peter Martyr, Peter Vermigli, Stephen Szegedi, Zacharius Ursinus, Kasper Olevian, Johannes Piscator, Dudley Fenner, Thomas Cartwright, William Perkins, Robert Howie, Robert Rollock, and Francis Gomarus. It is only then that he turns to Lausanne, to consider the English translation of the works of William Bucanus.” – Bill Berends – ‘Christ’s Active Obedience in Federal Theology’Vox Reformata (2004), p. 46

Smedley, Todd Matthew – The Covenant Theology of Zacharias Ursinus  PhD thesis, Aberdeen, 2012

Abstract:  “…the covenant theology of Zacharias Ursinus, which in many ways broke new ground for the development of Federal Theology in the sixteenth century with his introduction of the foedus naturale.  For the first time in its development he describes the prelapsarian economy to be covenantal and thus opens the way for a bicovenantal scheme to eventually become a distinctive feature of Reformed theology.”

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Articles

Vos, Geerhardus – pp. 6-9 of ‘The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology’  and throughout

McGiffert, Michael – ‘From Moses to Adam: The Making of the Covenant of Works’  The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 1988), pp. 131-155

Letham, Robert – ‘The Foedus Operum: Some Factors Accounting for Its Development’  The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Winter, 1983), pp. 457-467

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1600’s

Stoever, William Kenneth Bristow – The Covenant of Works in Puritan Theology: the Antinomian Crisis in New England  PhD thesis  Ref  (Yale Univ., 1970)

Ostella, Christopher Adam – The Merit of Christ in the Covenant of Works: Francis Turretin and Herman Bavinck Compared  Ref  a Masters Thesis  (Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, 2007)

Parr, Thomas – A Backdrop for the Gospel: William Strong (d. 1654) on the Covenant of Works  Ref  a Masters Thesis  (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, 2018)

Muller, Richard – ‘The Covenant of Works and the Stability of Divine Law in Seventeenth Century Reformed Orthodoxy: A Study in the Theology of Herman Witsius and Wilhelmus A Brakel’  1994  25 pp.

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1800’s

Ostella, Christopher Adam – The Merit of Christ in the Covenant of Works: Francis Turretin and Herman Bavinck Compared  Ref  a Masters Thesis  (Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, 2007)

Dahl, James David – Charles Hodge on the Imputation of Adam’s Sin  Ref  Masters thesis  (Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, 1988)

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1900’s

Ives, Psyche Joy – Recasting John Murray’s Covenant Theology: a Contextual Re-examination  Ref  Masters theis (Westminster Seminary, California, 2016)  See the very helpful abstract at the link.

Abstract:  “Murray argued that the Covenant Theology would benefit from a recasting of the terminology to a more felicitous and biblical formulation. As part of this recasting, he…  restricted the ‘covenant’ term to the history of redemption and the Covenant of Grace; replaced the common label ‘Covenant of Works’ with the ‘Adamic administration’; rejected all notions that the Covenant of Works itself (especially the notion that obedience could merit eternal life”) was not abrogated; and strongly condemned the terminology that suggested the Covenant of Works had been ‘republished.’…

…this work understands Murray’s own recasting to be an deliberate attempt to employ the work of his predecessors (most notably Geerhardus Vos’ late condemnation of the ‘covenant’ term) in a strategy to restore the covenant terminology to the most felicitous earlier formulation of the early Reformation, which he and many of his nineteenth and twentieth century predecessors had already determined was the most biblically accurate covenant concept…”

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Was Christ Under the Covenant of Works?  No, He was under the Covenant of Redemption.

Anonymous – pp. 10-12 of The Snake in the Grass: or, Remarks upon a book, entitled, The Marrow of Modern Divinity: touching both the Covenant of Works and of Grace, etc. Originally done by E.F. about the year 1645: and lately revised, corrected and published by the Reverend Mr. James Hog  (Edinburgh, May 14, 1719)

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Related Pages

The Works of the Westminster Divines on Covenant Theology

The Covenant of Grace

The Covenant of Redemption