Patrick Gillespie on the Covenant of Works (3)

In this third part (see parts 1, 2) of my annotated outline of Patrick Gillespie’s treatment of the Covenant of Works, the emphasis shifts from the existence and manner of transacting the covenant to its nature and breach. This material expands the gracious aspects of the Covenant of Works and begins to explain how Adam’s fall paved the way for the Covenant of Grace.
 
As in the previous posts, the material in [brackets] represents my commentary on the outline.
 
Outline
I. The nature of that covenant that God made with man in his innocence. (Positively and comparatively. p. 195)
 
A. The Covenant was made in man’s original integrity and as a public person (196). 1 Cor. 15; Rom. 5. [Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 22: “The covenant being made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in that first transgression.” This wording anticipates Christ as an exception, since, though he was related to the elect as a true man, he did not descend from Adam “by ordinary generation.”]
 
B. It was founded on the integrity of his nature in terms of a natural righteousness that was properly his own (196).
 
C. God did not enter this covenant with Adam as his equal, but as Sovereign Creator (197). [This illustrates that defining covenant as “contract” or mutual agreement did not diminish God’s Sovereignty in making the Covenant of Works]
 
D. “The Covenant of Works had its rise from grace in God.” Others are unwilling to use grace in this connection and speak of “favor or mere goodness.” Citing John Cameron as an example (197). However, the condition was works, while the promise was gracious. Luke 17:19. [See note on God’s grace to sinless creatures in my previous post]
 
E. Even though this covenant arose from the grace of God, commutative justice is front and center in this covenant (198). Citing John Ball. [In other words, God would have exercised justice in fulfilling the gracious promise of the covenant.]
 
F. Though the reward of the covenant was to come through justice, yet merit had no place at all in this covenant. Citing Johannes Cocceius (198). “Merit had as little place in man’s integrity as demerit.” [This is why the promise of the Covenant of Works was gracious. The nature of the promise excelled the obedience required. Though a sinless creature did not deserve condemnation, perfect obedience would only make him an unprofitable servant without a gracious promise of everlasting life].
 
1. His obedience was only the duty that he owed to God.
 
2. Adam could not obey de facto [in fact] without some help from God.
 
3. The help that God provided him increased his obligation to obey God.
 
4. “There was an infinite disproportion between the work and the reward.” God is an infinite good and man’s obedience was finite.
 
G. The nature of this Covenant was of works and not of faith because works were the condition of life in opposition to the “law of faith.” Rom. 3:27; Gal. 3:12. However, neither does this exclude faith in this covenant (199). [Faith is considered here only as part of Adam’s obedience to God, rather than as the free reception of Christ in the Covenant of Grace.]
 
1. The law does not require faith in a Redeemer. It did not require faith as an organ to receive Christ, but faith as “a gracious act and work of the soul.”
 
2. The law did not promise righteousness as conditioned on faith, but as conditioned upon works (199-200). Gal. 3:10-12; Rom. 10:5. The law did not require one act of obedience, but it required perfect and perpetual obedience.
 
H. God transacted the Covenant of Works with Adam directly and without a Mediator (200). He had immediate communion with God without respect to Christ as Mediator (201). Nevertheless, the entire Trinity was at work in this covenant. [In other words, though Adam did not relate to Christ as Mediator he related to him as the eternal Son of God.]
 
I. The Covenant of Works was a possible way of life to Adam, though it is no longer so for us (201). Rom. 8:3 (202).
 
II. The breach of the covenant of works by Adam’s sin (202).
 
A. Adam was set over the family of earth, but not over the family of heaven. Eph. 3:15; 1 Cor. 15:57 (202). [This prerogative belongs to Christ only.]
 
B. Adam enjoyed a heavenly communion with God even though he was in an earthly condition. This is evident from the image of God in Adam, but especially from God’s familiar converse with him (202). Divines disagree over whether Adam would have continued in the Garden or would be transported eventually to heaven, but we are unwise to inquire into such things, since Scripture does not reveal it (203).
 
C. Adam’s happiness in this covenant was mutable (203).
 
1. He was not predestined to eternal life in relation to this covenant.
 
2. He had neither actual influences towards perseverance, nor promises that he should do so.
 
D. Adam required God’s assistance for every act of obedience to God and to persevere in that obedience (203).
 
1. This was help from God as Creator only, and not as Redeemer (204).
 
2. This relation of dependence on God was inherent in the nature of a creature as related to his Creator (204). No creature can act independently from God. Adam required supernatural grace for actual obedience. Relying on God’s help was part of Adam’s natural duty. (205). [In his Pneumatologia, John Owen argued that Adam’s true failure in the Garden was ceasing to depend on the Holy Spirit for his obedience.]
 
E. God was not bound to keep Adam back from temptation (205).
 
F. Adam was exempted from the necessity of sinning, but not from the possibility of sinning (206).
 
1. There was no necessity in man’s nature to sin.
 
2. The power of the Devil was limited to “moral suasion.”
 
3. God gave men the necessary gifts and abilities to continue in righteousness, if he had improved them to this end (207). The Lord neither withdrew these gifts nor denied him assistance. [contra Romanism, though not cited here]
 
Summary
The primary thing that we learn from this section is that God created man as a dependent creature. Gillespie reminds us that we should never think of Adam before his Fall as an independent creature. Failing to depend on the Triune God for obedience inevitably leads to sin, whether for sinless or sinful creatures. Adam broke the Covenant of Works and all “sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression” (WLC 22). This paved the way for introducing the Covenant of Grace, which I will turn to in my next post.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.