Justification and a Denial of the Covenant of Works

September 23, 2007 § 1 Comment

I posted this in the comment section at De Regno Christi in response to this post by D. Hart. I thought I would go ahead and post it here as well.

Trueman says: “Deny the covenant of works, for example, and one implicitly denies the whole structure of justification taught in the standards.”

The problem I have with this sentence, is that it makes the COW an essential ingredient in a proper formulation of the doctrine of justification. If this is true than how did Calvin for example have a credible formulation of justification in the Institutes when the COW doesn’t even appear one time in the entire text? As matter of fact not only is the COW absent from the Institutes but there is found a statement by Calvin in which he expresses his dislike of the use of the term “merit” as it relates to human works.

Calvin says:
First, I must premise with regard to the term Merit, that he, whoever he was, that first applied it to human works, viewed in reference to the divine tribunal, consulted very ill for the purity of the faith. I willingly abstain from disputes about words, but I could wish that Christian writers had always observed this soberness—that when there was no occasion for it, they had never thought of using terms foreign to the Scriptures—terms which might produce much offense, but very little fruit. I ask, what need was there to introduce the word Merit, when the value of works might have been fully expressed by another term, and without offense? The quantity of offense contained in it the world shows to its great loss. It is certain that, being a high sounding term, it can only obscure the grace of God, and inspire men with pernicious pride.

John Calvin – From INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION, Book 3, Chapter 15, Section 2

So, if we are to say that the COW (defined in such a way that makes meritorious human works the bases of receiving favor from God) is essential to a proper formulation of justification, then how did Calvin get justification right?

For what it’s worth I would have agreed whole heartily with Trueman a year ago, but I am finding that the CoW as defined in our modern reformed thought is absent in the early generations of the Reformers.

Blessings in Christ,
Terry W. West

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