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Westminster's Error on Covenant of Works

Doug

I am always asking questions to you relating to "reformed theology." Here is another one, is there such a things as the Covenant of Works as defined by the Westminster Confession?

S (August 6, 2013)


My Reply (August 6, 2013)

Hi S

The covenant of works as defined by the Westminster is in error. It says it required the impossible -- perfect obedience or implictly you go to hell (which would mean that no one was saved until the era of grace!). There was then, and still today, a covenant of works with repentance as a mitigating factor so that obedience does not have to be perfect. If one sinned, it can be repented from and forgiven and / or atoned for.

The Westminster is a distorted Pauline restatement. To see this, you need to see a couple of clauses down in chapter 7 of the Westminster Confession:

II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

III. Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

IV. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ, the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.

Even Paul did not say such outrageous things ...but this is how one wedded to Paul will reconcile Paul to Jesus, to reconcile the Law to grace. One is obliterated as inadequate and impossible (extinguishing Jesus' endorsement of the Law), while another replaces it completely, rendering the prior terms null and void at the command of Paul.

So the right reconciliation of the Original Testament (only Paul calls it the Old Testament -- please erase "old testament" from your mind) to the New Testament is that God spoke through Jesus directly, as promised in Deut 18:15-19 and will hold everyone accountable to "obey his words." Those are NEW instructions -- mostly clarifications of the Law, FYI.

Thus, the New Covenant is premised on all the same grounds as the original covenant -- with Jews and Gentiles still having their same positions. It is no more impossible than the first covenant. Both allow for repentance. (See Deut. 30:1-10, discussed in Jesus' Words on Salvation at page 140; JWOS ch. 8-PDF link). Absolute 100% perfection is not necessary.

I discuss this a lot in Jesus' Words on Salvation.

Page 22 / online chapter one -- Isaiah 55:7 - let the wicked forsake their ways, and God will pardon. See page 23 - Ezekial 33:16-17 - turn from wickedness and live; return to wickedness and die. Deut 30:1-10, God will bring you back when you repent of sin.

God explains in Jer. 7:22-23 that He entered into the covenant of obedience with Abraham before delivering the sacrifice system to Moses so that we would know He, God, places emphasis on obedience over sacrifice. This shows the Torah was a continuation of a prior covenant, and did not extinguish the covenant of obedience with Abraham. I discuss Jer 7:22-23 in JWOS at page 26 / ch. 1 online.

The Torah repeats the covenant of obedience in several places - Deut 6:25, Lev 18:5. See JWOS at pages 33-34 / ch. 2 online.

So, the Westminster Confession is wrong in how it makes the covenant of works / obedience one absolutely impossible to be saved under. It does this to rationalize Paul's abolition of it - by making it appear it necessarily dissolved because a new means which was possible but radically at odds with the prior covenant now replaced it. What else can a Paulinist say and do? They must throw out Jesus' words to follow Paul, making it appear that Jesus knew the original Law was obsolete and ill-designed for a sinful world, and gladly accepted Paul's changes.

Blessings,

Doug