Westminster Confession, 7.4-6
“This covenant of grace… 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 foresignifying 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…
There are not therefore two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.”
Order of Contents
Puritanism on the Graciousness of the Mosaic Covenant
The Westminster Confession & the Mosaic Covenant
Herman Witsius, 1677, Economy of the Covenants, 2:184
[Witsius is explaining the Jewish error that was tempting the Galatian Christians, which Paul rebukes. Speaking of the Covenant of Grace published at Sinai, Witsius says:]
“However the carnal Israelites, not adverting to God’s purpose or intention, as they ought, mistook the true meaning of that covenant, embraced it as a covenant of works, and by it sought for righteousness.”
King, Adam – ‘A Survey of the Mosaic Covenant’ 2013 16 pp.
This is the best, easy to read introduction to the Mosaic Covenant. King is a former minister of the RPCNA.
Beeke, Joel; Jones, Mark – “The Puritans on the Old and New Covenants: A Gracious Moses?” about 20 pages, being chapter 17 of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life Buy
Beeke and Jones give a survey of the Mosaic Covenant in the puritan era, note that the doctrine of the Republication of the Covenant of Works (in its older variety) was a minority view, and expound Moses from the scriptures with many experiential applications as a Covenant of Grace.
Quote: Was the Israelites’ Inheriting the Land by Grace, or a Graciously Accommodated Merit?
“Under this [Mosaic] Covenant, the natural seed of Abraham bore the face of the Church and state, and God had promised abundance of temporals, and of spiritual, a scantling; But all under the outward administration of the Covenant were not in like manner partakers of the blessings promised in Covenant. For some had their part in temporal blessings only, and the outward ordinances; others were partakers of the spiritual blessings promised.
But whatever good thing any of them enjoyed either temporal or spiritual, it was conferred upon them freely according to the Covenant of Grace, and not for the dignity of their works. It is true, the promise is conditional, if they obey, they shall reap the good things of the Land: but obedience was not a causal condition, why they should inherit the Land…
So that herein there appears no intexture of the Covenant of works with the Covenant of Grace, nor any moderation of the Law to the strength and power of nature for the obtaining of outward blessings. But rather that God out of his abundant goodness is pleased freely to confer outward blessings promised in the Covenant upon some that did not cleave to him unfeignedly [purely], that he might make good his promise unto the spiritual seed, which by word and oath he had confirmed unto the Fathers.”
Puritanism on the Graciousness of the Mosaic Covenant
Ball, John – A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, Chapters 7 & 8 Buy 1645 50 pp.
“Because his treatise appeared during the sitting of the Westminster Assembly, just at the time when it set itself to framing the confession, and because it moreover borrowed from Ball in the standards, one naturally supposes that his influence can be detected in its formulation of the doctrine of the covenant.”
Blake, Thomas – ‘The Old Covenant was a Pure Gospel Covenant and not Mixed’ 1652, 8 pages, being chapter 35 of his The Covenant of God Buy
Kevan, Ernest – The Grace of the Law Buy no date, 294 pages
This book was the substance of Dr. Kevan’s (†1965) dissertation on the Law in the thought of puritanism. The book is excellent. There is a chapter giving a survey of puritan views on the Mosaic Covenant, which is gold. Dr. Kevan was the first principle of London Bible College, now the London School of Theology.
Lim, Won Taek – ‘The Sinai Covenant’ and ‘The Sinai Covenant as a Covenant of Faith’ 2000 17 pp. (pp. 168-185) & 43 pp. (pp. 224-267) respectively, being two chapters from his dissertation, The Covenant Theology of Francis Roberts
Lim’s dissertation surveys the monumental work on Covenant Theology by the English puritan Francis Roberts (1609–1675). Lim helpfully summarizes Roberts’ section on the Mosaic Covenant, demonstrating that it was a Covenant of Grace (which Roberts calls a Covenant of Faith). See below to read Roberts first hand.
Roberts, Francis – “Of God’s giving the Law on Mount Sinai as a Covenant, and that of Faith” 1657, 90 pp., being Book 3, Chapter 4, Aphorism 2 of The Mystery and Marrow of the Bible: God’s Covenants with Man, with an Introduction and Extended Outline
This is the best piece to read on the Mosaic Covenant. Roberts wrote the puritan magnum opus on Covenant Theology (it being 1,700 pages). In his section on the Mosaic Covenant, Roberts deals with the four views propounded of the Mosaic Covenant during his day:
(1) that it was a covenant of works;
(2) that it was mixed, having both elements of the Covenant of Grace and of the Covenant of Works;
(3) that it was a national covenant subservient to the Covenant of Grace;
(4) that it was a Covenant of Grace;
The first position was that taken by the Dutch work, Synopsis of a Pure Theology. The second position was taken by Johannes Cocceius. The third position was largely that of the Amyraldians. The final position was that of the confessional consensus of orthodox Calvinism. For a summary of this work see Lim’s work above.
Note that what the Westminster Confession and modern writers call the Covenant of Grace, Roberts prefers to call the Covenant of Faith.
Flavel, John – Vindiciae Legis et Foederis [A Vindication of the Law and Covenant]: or a Reply to Mr. Philip Cary’s Solemn Call in Works, vol. 6
This piece is excellent. Cary was a baptist who held that (1) the Mosaic Covenant was fundamentally a covenant of works and that (2) the Gospel-Covenant is in every way unconditional. Flavel argues against both these points.
“The difference between us here is not:
(1) Whether both these [the Covenant of Works with Adam and the Mosaic Covenant] be called covenants in Scripture? Nor
(2) Whether there was no grace at all in both, or either of them; for we are agreed , it is grace in God to enter into covenant with man, whatever that covenant be. Nor
(3) Whether the Sinai law be not a covenant of works to some men, by their own fault and occasion? Nor
(4) Whether the Scriptures do not many times speak of it in that very sense and notion wherein carnal justiciaries apprehend and take it; and by rejecting Christ, make it so to themselves? Nor
(5) Whether the very matter of the law of nature be not revived and represented in the Sinai law?
These are not the points we contend about. But the question is:
Whether the Sinai law do in its own nature, and according to God’s purpose and design in the promulgation of it, revive the law of nature, to the same ends and uses it served to in Adam’s covenant; and so be properly and truly a covenant of works?
Or whether God had not gracious and evangelical ends and purposes, viz. by such a dreadful representation of the severe and impracticable terms of the first covenant, instead of obliging them to the personal and punctual observance observance of them for righteousness and life, He did not rather design to convince them of the impossibility of legal righteousness, humble proud nature, and show them the necessity of betaking themselves to Christ, now exhibited in the new covenant, as the only refuge to fallen sinners?” – p. 323
Gillespie, Patrick – The Ark of the Testament Opened, or the Secret of the Lord’s Covenant Unsealed, in a Treatise of the Covenant of Grace… (London, 1661), part 1, ch. 3, ‘Of a Covenant with God’, pp. 152-164 & ch. 5, ‘Of the Covenant of Works’, pp. 177-219
Dr. Ryan McGraw gives a summary, outline and annotations on this section of Gillespie (which is not online) in his article, ‘Patrick Gillespie on the Covenant of Works’, pt. 1, 2, 3, 4.
Further excerpts may be found at The Mosaic Covenant: ‘Patrick Gillespie’ & the Heidelblog, ‘Patrick Gillespie: Moses Was A Pedagogical Republication Of The Covenant Of Works’. Dr. R. Scott Clark is a proponent of the modern view of the Mosaic Covenant being a Republication of the Covenant of Works.
The Westminster Confession and the Mosaic Covenant
Ramsey, D. Patrick – In Defense of Moses: A Confessional Critique Kline and Karlberg 2004 32 pp. After opening the link, one has to click ‘here’ in order to open up the article, where it says: ‘Click here to download your attachment’. This article originally appeared in Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004) pp. 373-400.
Ramsey demonstrates that Meredith Kline and Mark Karlberg’s doctrine of the Republication of the Covenant of Works in Moses alongside the Covenant of Grace is not in accord with the teaching of the Westminster Confession.
Strimple, Robert B. – “Westminster Confession of Faith: Was the Mosaic Covenant a Republication of the Covenant of Works?” no date, 9 pages
Dr. Strimple argues for the plain sense of the Westminster Confession contra the authors of ‘The Law is Not of Faith’ and R. Scott Clark.
An Excellent Website
This website is dedicated to documenting the primary sources from puritanism relating to the Mosaic Covenant.
Dennison, Jr., James T., Scott F. Sanborn, and Benjamin W. Swinburnson. “Merit or ‘Entitlement’ in Reformed Covenant Theology: A Review Article.” 2009, 150 pages, from Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 24.3 (Dec 2009): 3-152.
Venema, Cornelis P. “The Mosaic Covenant: a ‘Republication’ of the Covenant of Works? A Review Article: The Law Is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in The Mosaic Covenant.” 2010, 65 pages, from Mid-America Journal of Theology 21 (2010): 35-101.
Letham, Robert – “Not a Covenant of Works in Disguise” (Herman Bavinck): the Place of the Mosaic Covenant in Redemptive History MAJT 24 (2013): 143-177
Dunson, Ben – “‘The law evidently is not contrary to faith’: Galatians and the Republication of the Covenant of Works,” WTJ 79.2 (2017): 243-66 Online at Academia.edu
Ramsay, Patrick – ‘From Frying Pan to Fire?’ 2019 7 paragraphs at Meetthepuritans.com
Elam, Andrew; Van Kooten, Robert; Bergquist, Randall – Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication Buy 2014, 172 pages
See the Buy link for a synopsis of the book.
A Sermon of the Baptizing of Infants (London: Stephen Bowtell, 1644), pp. 11-12 bound with A Defence of Infant-Baptism in Answer to Two Treatises (London, 1646)
“…neither did the Lord promise [Israel] entrance into, or continuance in that Land, but upon the same conditions upon which hee promiseth eternall life, as true Faith in the Gospel, with the love and feare of God, and obedience of his Commandments: Godliness having then, as it hath now and always, the promise of good things for this life, and the life to come.”
Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 3, pt. 2, ch. 5, ‘The Covenant in Old Testament Salvation History’, p. 222
“Just as Abraham, when God allied Himself with him, was obligated to ‘walk before his face’, so Israel as a people was similarly admonished by God’s covenant to a new obedience. The entire law, which the covenant of grace at Mount Sinai took into its service, is intended to prompt Israel as a people to ‘walk’ in the way of the covenant. It is but an explication of the one statement to Abraham: ‘Walk before me, and be blameless [Gen. 17:1], and therefore no more a cancellation of the covenant of grace and the foundation of a covenant of works than this word spoken to Abraham.
The law of Moses, accordingly, is not antithetical to grace but subservient to it and was also thus understood and praised in every age by Israel’s pious men and women. But detached from the covenant of grace, it indeed became a letter that kills, a ministry of condemnation.
Another reason why in the time of the Old Testament the covenant of grace took the law into its service was that it might arouse the consciousness of sin, increase the felt need for salvation, and reinforce the expectation of an even richer revelation of God’s grace. It is from that perspective that Paul views especially the Old Testament dispensation of the covenant of grace. He writes that Israel as a minor, placed under the care of the law, had to be led to Christ (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:23f.; 4:1f.) and that in that connection sin would be increased and the uselessness of works for justification and the necessity of faith would be understood (Rom. 4:15; 5:20; 7:7f.; 8:3; Gal. 3:19).
On the one hand, therefore, the law was subservient to the covenant of grace; it was not a covenant of works in disguise and did not intend that humans would obtain justification by their own works. On the other hand, its purpose was to lay the groundwork for a higher and better dispensation of that same covenant of grace to come in the fullness of time. The impossibility of keeping the Sinaitic covenant and of meeting the demands of the law made another and better dispensation of the covenant of grace necessary.”
Serious Error: Strongly Not Recommended
T. David Gordon 2009 The Law is Not of Faith, p. 251.
The Sinai covenant-administration was no bargain for sinners, and I pity the poor Israelites who suffered under its administration, just as I understand perfectly well why seventy-three (nearly half) of their psalms were laments. I would have resisted this covenant also, had I been there, because such a legal covenant, whose conditions require strict obedience (and threaten severe curse-sanctions), is bound to fail if one of the parties to it is a sinful people.