One of the biggest areas of debate in the study of Covenant Theology revolves around the question of how we are to understand the Mosaic Covenant. In fact, there's not only great debate relating to the Mosaic Covenant, there's also a good amount of confusion. At least one early Reformed theologian, Edmund Calamy, in attempting to categorize the various positions on the Mosaic Covenant, seems to have himself actually misunderstood some of the views represented.1 This shows “that even a member of the Westminster Assembly could hear and read his contemporaries on the topic of the covenants, with particular reference to Sinai, and not necessarily provide an altogether accurate or clear taxonomy of their respective positions.”2 It's no wonder that Anthony Burgess, another member of the Westminster Assembly, made the observation that he did “not find in any point of Divinity, learned men so confused and perplexed” as on the relationship between the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Grace!3
The song goes, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Well, we could write another musical, “How do you solve a problem like Moses?” How are we to understand the Mosaic Covenant? Is this covenant that God makes with Israel under Moses part of the Covenant of Grace? Or is it more like another Covenant of Works? Or is it both? Or neither? How are we to understand the Mosaic Covenant?
Generally, we could say that there are four major views of the Mosaic Covenant.4 Francis Roberts summarizes them in this way: 1) “that the Law on Mount Sinai was given as a Covenant of Works, not of Grace; 2) That it was a mixed Covenant, partly of Works, partly of Grace; 3) That it was not purely and properly either a covenant of nature or of grace, but a covenant subservient to the Covenant of Grace, and preparing thereunto; [and,] 4) That it was a Covenant of Grace for substance, though propounded in an unusual way of terror and servile bondage, suitable to that people, time, and state of the Church under age.”5 To chart these descriptions out a bit, we could think of these four views in the following way:
Let's take some time to look with a little more depth at these views one by one:10
1. The FIRST View: The Mosaic Covenant was given as a COVENANT OF WORKS
A) Summary of View: According to this view, the Mosaic Covenant was a dispensation of law—not grace. The covenant with Abraham was indeed a covenant of grace, but when Israel came to Sinai, they entered into a very different kind of covenant. Under the gospel of Abraham, the way to life was simple faith in God's promise; but now under Moses at Sinai, the way to life is absolute obedience to God's law. These two systems are irreconcilable. And since perfect obedience is the requirement of the Law, the Mosaic Covenant must be understood as a renewal (or republication) of the Covenant of Works. Most of those who hold this view affirm that no man was ever saved in any way other than by grace alone through faith alone in Christ. Indeed, the whole purpose of renewing the Covenant of Works was to drive men to Christ. But since this covenant was entirely conditional on Israel's obedience, it is to be understood as a renewal of the original Covenant of Works, and thus stands directly opposed to the Covenant of Grace.11
Those who hold to this view argue that this interpretation is confirmed by all the things Paul says about the Law that stand against the essence of the gospel. They point to how Paul says that while, “the righteous man shall live [IE, be justified] by faith,” the Law operates on the principle, “He who practices them shall live [IE, be justified] by them.” (Galatians 3:12). And again in Romans 10:5, “Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live [IE, be justified] by that righteousness.” Those who adhere to this view ask what else could Paul possibly be saying, but that the Law is a completely different system than the gospel? Whereas the gospel operates on the principle of: Believe and live; the Law operates on the principle of: Obey/Work/Do and live. Proponents of this view remind us that Paul even describes the Law as a letter that “kills,” (2 Corinthians 3:6), and as “a ministry of death,” (2 Corinthians 3:7). They conclude that the Mosaic Law could not have been part of the Covenant of Grace, but that it must have been given as a renewal of the original Covenant of Works.12
B) Synopsis of View: Each of the first three views we are going to examine have this in common: they do not take the Mosaic Covenant to be part of the Covenant of Grace. So, the Scriptures alluded to that seem to represent the Law in a negative way, or in a way that opposes the gospel, these same Scriptures are used in various ways to defend each of the first three views we'll be looking at.13 For that reason, we'll wait until later to look at these Scriptures in detail. But for now, we can say the following about this view:
1) First of all, biblically speaking, the Covenant of Works isn't something that can be repeated: This is something that we talked about a little earlier in the lesson (we also dealt with this in more detail back in Lesson 2).14 Once Adam violated the Covenant of Works, it was shattered in such a way that there's no putting it back together again.15 So again, the Covenant of Works isn't something that can be repeated.16
And even if it was, it would be a very strange thing for God to do: “how absurd is it to imagine, that at the fall of Adam God should lay aside the Covenant of Works, and set up the Covenant of Faith [IE, of Grace] from Adam, till Moses; and at Sinai should again lay aside the Covenant of Faith, and erect the Covenant of Works from Moses, till Christ; and last of all at Christ's coming lay aside once more the Covenant of Works, and take up again the Covenant of Faith, till the end of the world?”17 It's confusing. And it's backwards; it regresses from the plan of redemption God has been carrying out since Genesis 3.
2) Secondly, this view can't account for the elements of grace in the Mosaic Covenant. There's no grace in the Covenant of Works. There's no atonement; there's no forgiveness. Perfect obedience is required; and there's no tender mercies to appeal to if and when you disobey. But that's not what it was like in the Mosaic Covenant. There was grace at Sinai. Just one example is in Leviticus 4:35, where we read of the outcome of the sin offering: “Thus the priest shall make atonement for him in regard to his sin which he has committed, and he will be forgiven.” What do we see? There was atonement and forgiveness of sins at Sinai. And there are passages like this throughout the Mosaic Covenant. Why do we see grace in the Mosaic Covenant? We would say it's because the Mosaic Covenant is part of the Covenant of Grace.
3) Further, this view can't make sense of several other passages of Scripture in the New Testament. Later we'll deal more extensively with the passages quoted above that seem to make the Law contrary to the gospel. But there are other passages that proponents of this view are hard-pressed to interpret according to their paradigm of Sinai. For instance, how do they explain what Jesus meant when He told the Jews, “if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me” (John 5:46)? Or how would they interpret what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, that Israel under Moses “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ”? Or how can they explain Hebrews 4, where we're told twice that new covenant believers have the same good news [IE, gospel] preached to us that Israel did under Moses (vv2,6)?18
2. The SECOND View: The Mosaic Covenant was given as a MIXED COVENANT
A) Summary of View: This view seeks to do justice to the fact that there seems to be both law and grace in the Mosaic Covenant. The proponents of this view try to reconcile the strict requirements of the Mosaic Covenant with God's gracious dealings towards His people in the Mosaic Covenant by saying that the Mosaic Covenant was actually a mixture of both the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace.
1) There are actually at least three sub-positions of the Mixed View. The first distinguishes the Covenant of Works from the Covenant of Grace in the Mosaic Covenant by the type of Law that was given. According to this position, the Moral Law (beginning in Exodus 20) contained the Covenant of Works; whereas the Ceremonial Law (beginning in Exodus 24),19 contained the Covenant of Grace.20 Edward Fisher seems to advocate this view in his book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity. He writes: “the moral law being delivered unto them with great terror, and under most dreadful penalties, they did find in themselves an impossibility of keeping it; and so were driven to seek help of a Mediator, even Jesus Christ, of whom Moses was to them a typical mediator; so that the moral law did drive them to the ceremonial law, which was their gospel, and their Christ in a figure; for that the ceremonies did prefigure Christ, direct unto him, and require faith in him, is a thing acknowledged and confessed by all men.”21
2) Other proponents of the Mixed View have taught that the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace are distinguished in the Mosaic Covenant by the two separate occasions on which the Law is given.22 The first giving of the Law, beginning in Exodus 20, and including both the Moral and Ceremonial laws, was given as a Covenant of Works, in that it came with thunder and lightening and threatenings, and required strict obedience. But even as Moses receives this Law on the mountain, the people break it (Exodus 32). When Moses saw what they had done, and shattered the two tables of the Law, it signified the breach of that Covenant. But the second giving of the Law, recorded in Exodus 34, is very different: this time the Law is given in the context of promises of pardon; no more terror or thunderings: “Now the Mediator Moses must prepare the tables, and bring them up to God, who would write therein the same words which were in the former. . .Now the Lord proclaims all his goodness before Moses, Exodus 34 for the support and encouragement of penitent sinners. Now Moses coming down, his face shined so gloriously, that he put a veil upon it to hide the curse of the law from the people . . .Thus [this time] the law was a Covenant of Grace, or subordinate to the Covenant of Grace.”23
3) Still others who have held to a Mixed View explain things differently than the first two sub-positions articulated above. Instead of seeing the distinction between the Covenants of Works and Grace in the two separate types of the Law (Moral versus Ceremonial), or the two separate givings of the Law (Exodus 20 versus Exodus 34), they see the distinction as relating to the two separate functions of the Law.24 In other words, they claim that the Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace ran side by side in the Mosaic Covenant, much like a rail-road track. The difference didn't have to do with what kind of Law was commanded, or with when the Law was delivered—but rather with how the Law functioned. For believers, the Law functioned as a Covenant of Grace: it was given as the Law of Christ, to instruct God's redeemed people. In short, it said: obey because you now live (obey from life). But for unbelievers, the Law functioned as a Covenant of Works: it was given as a law of works, to convict those yet unrepentant of their sin and to drive them to Christ.25 In short, it said: obey in order to live (obey for life).
B) Synopsis of View: There's a lot that's commendable about this view.26 Those who hold this view are believers who are honestly grappling with what the Scriptures teach about Moses and the Law: how is it that Paul can tell the Corinthians that the Law is a ministry of condemnation and death that kills (2 Corinthians 3) on the one hand, and yet write to the same church, teaching that all those who were in the wilderness with Moses “ate the same spiritual food; and drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:3-4)? How is it that Scripture tells us in Galatians 3 that “the Law is not of faith” because it operates on a principle contrary to the gospel; namely, the one who obeys will live; and yet we read in Hebrews that those with Moses in the wilderness had the gospel preached to them? This isn't an easy thing to figure out. So, it's commendable that those holding this view are grappling with Scripture in an honest way.27
And again, our purpose here is not to give an exhaustive critique. We'll interact with more of the particulars later under View 4. But for now, we could respond to this view by noting the following:
1) First, Scripture always uses the singular tense to refer to the covenant that God made at Mount Sinai. When Scripture speaks of the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai, it always refers to it as covenant (not covenants); it's always in the singular tense, not the plural: “The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.” (Deuteronomy 5:2).28 So, the Mosaic Covenant can't be two separate covenants.
2) Secondly, the two-fold time-table (articulated in the first two sub-views) doesn't quite work. First of all, it's not true to say that there was no grace until Exodus 34 (with the second giving of the Law), because: a) the people were sprinkled with blood in Exodus 24, a type of Christ's sacrifice; and b) the Ceremonial Laws of Exodus 24-31 all foreshadowed gospel mercies that would be fulfilled in Christ. These were all given before Moses came down from the mountain and shattered the two tablets.29 Secondly, it's not true to say that there was no grace until Exodus 24 (with the giving of the Ceremonial Laws), because the Ceremonial Laws actually began before Exodus 24.30 Third, even if it's claimed that the Covenant of Grace began right after the Israelites pled for mercy in Exodus 20:18, it doesn't work to say that the 10 Commandments were given as a Covenant of Works, because: a) in the preface to the 10 Commandments, God both tells Israel that He is “the Lord their God,” (20:2); and recounts how He had redeemed them from Egypt, a picture of our redemption in Christ; and b) even within the 10 Commandments themselves, gospel mercies are promised: the 2nd commandment tells us that God is a God who shows “lovingkindness to thousands” (20:6);31 and in Ephesians 6:2, Paul refers back to the promise of the 5th commandment (20:12) as a promise for Christians; that is, a gospel promise.32
3) Lastly, it might eliminate a lot of confusion to point out that declaring the requirements of God's Law isn't the same thing as bringing people under a Covenant of Works. Fisher (of Mixed View A) and Boston (of Mixed View C) both quote Jesus' interaction with the rich young ruler to defend their positions.33 The man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus responds by quoting from the 10 Commandments. The reason Jesus did this was to expose to this man just how much of a law-breaker he really was, in order to drive him to seek salvation by grace alone. This is, indeed, one of the chief purposes of the Law, to expose our sin—to show us just how sinful we really are. So far, so good. But when Jesus used the Law this way, He wasn't putting anyone under the Covenant of Works. Jesus was exposing the sin of this man, yes; but that's not the same thing as saying that Jesus was putting this man temporarily under the/a Covenant of Works in order to bring him into the Covenant of Grace. Faithful pastors will preach on the 10 Commandments. But when they do so they're not putting their congregations temporarily under the Covenant of Works. They're merely expounding God's Law.34
3. The THIRD View: The Mosaic Covenant was given as a Subservient Covenant
A) Summary of View: Another way of viewing God's dealings with Israel under Moses is by seeing them through the lens of what has been called a subservient covenant. According to this view, the Mosaic Covenant is neither a renewal of the Covenant of Works nor a manifestation of the Covenant of Grace. It is argued that when we compare the Mosaic Covenant with both the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, we find that it is something that seems to be distinct from both of them. The Mosaic Covenant has similarities with both the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, but there are also, it is said, irreconcilable differences.35 The covenant under Moses at Sinai seems to be something that doesn't quite belong either to the Covenant of Works or the Covenant of Grace, and, in the words of Samuel Bolton, “If it be neither a covenant of works, nor a covenant of grace, then must it of necessity be a third kind of covenant. . .Hence it is called a subservient covenant.”36 It's something distinct from both of them; a third covenant, that is both subservient to and preparatory for the Covenant of Grace.37
This view is also called the Trichotomist view because its proponents have a three-fold understanding of God's covenant dealings. According to John Cameron, who is credited with first articulating this view, “there is one covenant of nature [IE, works], one of grace, and one subservient to the covenant of grace (which in Scripture is called the 'old covenant'). . .”38 This contrasts the Dichotomist view, which sees God's covenant dealings as simply two-fold: 1) the Covenant of Works and 2) the Covenant of Grace.
According to this view, the requirement of the covenant under Moses was essentially the same as that of the Covenant of Works; namely, Do this and live: “God required obedience from the Israelites. . . Blessings in the possession of Canaan were promised to obedience, and curses and miseries to those who broke the covenant. . .”39 So then, what God required of Israel under Moses was not a gospel obedience (the obedience of faith), but rather a perfect legal obedience (as with the Covenant of Works). This is significant. In the Covenant of Grace, God requires faith apart from works, but in this covenant God was requiring works apart from faith: “Sincere, gospel obedience was not acceptable in this covenant.”40
However, this view has a unique understanding of the promises and threatenings that God declared to Israel in case of obedience or disobedience. Adherents of the Subservient View argue that the blessings and curses proclaimed at Sinai had nothing to do with the eternal state—they actually referred solely to temporal blessings and curses that Israel would incur in the land of Canaan: “it was temporary, and had respect to Canaan and God's blessing there, if and as Israel obeyed. It had no relation to heaven. . .”41 In other words, God related to His people under Moses differently in spiritual matters than He did in temporal ones. While God dealt with His people Israel according to grace when it came to their eternal salvation, He dealt with them according to their works when it came to their temporal life in the land of promise. Spiritual blessings or curses were based on God's grace, but temporal blessings or curses in Canaan were based on Israel's obedience. Though keeping the Law could never be the basis of Israel's inheriting eternal blessing, it was in fact the sole basis of their maintaining temporal blessing.42
According to this view, the reason the subservient covenant was given to Israel was to make them long for the gospel freedom that would be ushered in with the New Covenant. Because such strict obedience was required of Israel, and because no strength was provided under the Law to meet those requirements, this covenant functioned to expose their sin and their inability to keep God's Law. And indeed, this was its very purpose. As one put it: “God made this Covenant with the people Israel at Mount Sinai, to prepare them unto the faith, and to inflame them with desire of the promise and evangelical covenant (which otherwise had languished in their minds) and to restrain them from sin as with a bridle, till the time that he should send the Spirit of adoption into [their] hearts, and should govern them by the Law of liberty.”43
B) Synopsis of View: As we begin a synopsis, let's remember that there have been godly men who have held to this view for commendable reasons.44 That isn't to say we believe it's right (or even compatible with the Westminster standards).45 But it is to say that we don't have the right to demonize a particular view or those who held to it simply because we don't agree with it.46 Remember, there were many good men within the Reformed tradition who differed in their views on the Mosaic Covenant. Having said that, we respectfully disagree with those who hold to a Subservient covenant for the following reasons:
1) First, the idea of the Subservient covenant doesn't fit with Scripture. It obscures the biblical simplicity of God's dealings with man: that the Lord first entered into a Covenant of Works with man perfect; but when Adam failed, He entered into the Covenant of Grace with man lapsed, under which, in turn, each stage in the Covenant of Grace (including Sinai) builds upon the former in perfect unity.47 It's also baffling why a covenant besides these two is so necessary. To insist there was a need for a Subservient covenant makes it seem as if there is something inherently defective in the Covenant of Grace.
2) Secondly, the condition of the Subservient covenant doesn't fit with Scripture. Several passages of Scripture make it very clear that the obedience God required of Israel was gospel (not legal) obedience. As just one example among many, Moses exhorts the people in Deuteronomy 10:16: “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” This is gospel (not legal) obedience. Further, it can't be true that God gave separate requirements for Israel based on whether the blessings promised were eternal (IE, by faith) or temporal (IE, by merit), because there are passages in the Law that promise both eternal and temporal blessings and require the same thing for obtaining them both.48 Besides, these two principles of grace received (on the one hand) and merit achieved (on the other) are so opposed to one another that Jesus' words seem likewise fitting here: A house divided against itself cannot stand.49
3) Thirdly, the evidence for the Subservient covenant doesn't fit with Scripture. Some of the classical proofs put forward by Samuel Bolton and others for the Subservient view simply don't hold up to close biblical scrutiny. For example: 1) It's said that God in this Subservient Covenant only reproves sin and approves righteousness, whereas in the Covenant of Grace He actually pardons sin and renews man in righteousness. But when we examine Scripture, we find that this simply isn't true. We see God explicitly pardoning sins throughout His dealings with Israel under Moses, both through the provision of the sacrifices, as well as in the declaration of Exodus 34:6-7, that He “forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. . .” Again: 2) It's said that the covenant at Sinai only terrified the conscience while the Covenant of Grace comforts it; but Scripture teaches us that there is both comfort at Sinai as well as terror in the Covenant of Grace. On the one hand, Deuteronomy is full of gospel comforts like 7:6: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession”, and on the other hand, the teaching of the New Testament (including that of Christ himself) is filled with sober warnings of failing to enter the kingdom of God (Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 12:25).50
4. The FOURTH View: The Mosaic Covenant was given as part of the COVENANT OF GRACE
Summary of View: The final way of understanding God's dealings with Israel under Moses is that it was simply another manifestation of the Covenant of Grace. This is the way that the majority of the Puritans understood the Mosaic Covenant,51 and the view articulated in the Westminster Confession of Faith.52
According to this view, there are only two covenants revealed in Scripture:53 the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace; and the Mosaic Covenant is simply one of the Old Testament manifestations of the Covenant of Grace. Those who adhere to this view recognize that there are differences between the Old Testament manifestations of the Covenant of Grace (the old covenant)54 and the inauguration of the new covenant in Christ—and that these differences are perhaps most pronounced at Sinai55—but they are nonetheless to be considered differences in administration rather than differences in substance.56 In other words, the difference between Sinai and Calvary isn't one of essence—but simply of external form; the two are not different in regard to what they are (matter) but rather in how they are set forth (manner).57 In short, the Mosaic Covenant is simply another manifestation of the Covenant of Grace.
1 Noted in Beeke, A Puritan Theology. See Edmund Calamy: Two Solemn Covenants Made Between God and Man.
2 Quoted from Beeke, A Puritan Theology. So it shouldn't surprise us that there continues to be a great amount of confusion. If members of the Westminster Assembly found themselves baffled in categorizing the specific views of the Mosaic Covenant as they interacted with primary sources, how much more baffled are we bound to be now as we interact with secondary sources, many of whom in turn misunderstand the primary sources they are seeking to represent.
3 Quote is from Beeke. The full quote from Burgess has a bit more color to it: “I do not find in any point of divinity, learned men so confused and perplexed (being like Abraham's ram, hung in a bush of briars and brambles by the head) as here.” (A Vindication of the Moral Law, p229). He wasn't alone; other theologians had very similar things to say. Jonathan Edwards says, “There is perhaps no part of divinity attended with so much intricacy, and wherein orthodox divines do so much differ as stating the precise agreement and difference between the two dispensations of Moses and Christ.” (Works, V1, p160). John Ball says, “here at first we meet with great difficulty, how, and whether at all the Covenant of Grace, was manifested by Moses.” (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, p95). John Owen says, “this is a subject wrapped up in much obscurity, and attended with many difficulties.” (Hebrews, p60). Francis Roberts, in commencing the subject, begins with, “This particular is involved in much difficulty. . .One compares it to the land of Canaan. . .there are many giants, many great objections in the way. And as Abraham's ram was entangled in the thicket by the head; so very many and learned writers are much entangled and perplexed in their notions and expressions about the nature of this Sinai Covenant, wherein they not only dissent oft-times from one another, but sometimes from themselves so far, that it is hard to discover their sense and meaning.” (p738).
4 We say generally because most (perhaps all) of these views in turn also represent several distinct various sub-views (which we have also tried to describe to some degree). Some have condensed the different opinions on the Mosaic Covenant into just two categories: those who see the Mosaic Covenant as being part of the Covenant of Grace and those who see it as something totally separate. This basically entails singling out the Dichotomist View as the one view that sees a fundamental unity, and lumping all the other views together. But this creates confusion and isn't precise enough to do justice to the various views represented. On the other extreme, others have expanded the differing views of the Mosaic Covenant (in the Reformed camp) into as many as 14 distinct categories (Brenton Ferry's thesis). Though this is helpful for highlighting the amount of underlying diversity of opinion about Sinai (though I've found personally that I need to take his findings with a grain of salt), I think most of the differences Ferry finds can naturally be classified as sub-views under one of the four main views we have listed here. We arrived at four views primarily because: first, the differing views on the Mosaic Covenant have often historically been classified into these four views; and secondly, each of these views seems to me distinct enough to merit an entirely separate category. We must acknowledge at the outset that it is not an easy thing to classify the Puritans' views of Sinai! In my personal study of the writings of the Puritans, I have found Patrick Ramsey's words to be extremely helpful: “The difficulty in classifying the various Puritans according to these four categories is that 'many of them held several of the different views in varying combinations.' [quoting Ernest Kevan, The Grace of Law, p113]. As a result, some divines seemed confused and contradictory. Other divines use the same terminology of the various classifications but in different senses [IE, the word subservient]. Moreover, many theologians within the same general category differ on the various details of the Mosaic Covenant [see discussion of the Mixed view]. Nonetheless, if we are careful to make the necessary distinctions, these four classifications are both necessary and useful. After all, the Puritans themselves employed them.” (In Defense of Moses, p7).
5 Anthony Burgess employs the same four-fold classification in his Vindiciae Legis. He writes, “In expressing this Covenant there is difference among the Learned: some make the Law a Covenant of works, and upon that ground that it is abrogated; others call it a subservient covenant to the covenant of grace, and make it only occasionally, as it were, introduced, to put more luster and splendor upon grace; others call it a mixed covenant of works and grace; but that is hardly to be understood as possible, much less as true. I therefore think that opinion true. . .that the Law given by Moses was a Covenant of grace.” (p213; quoted from Kevan, The Grace of Law). See also John Ball in A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, esp. pp92-102.
10 Joel Beeke (following Mark Jones, Drawn into Controversy), cites John Owen, who helpfully reminds us that though there were indeed different views about Sinai, the Reformed orthodox agreed on at least the following: 1) “from the giving of the first promise none was ever justified or saved but by the new covenant, and Jesus Christ”; 2) “the Old Testament contains the doctrine of salvation in and through the person and work of Christ”; 3) the old covenant 'separated from its figurative relation unto the covenant of grace' could not save”; and 4) “all of the institutions in the old covenant typified Christ.” (ch.17).
11 William Pemble describes the view this way: “By the covenant of works, we understand what we call in one word, 'the law,' namely, that means of bringing man to salvation, which is by perfect obedience unto the will of God. Hereof there are also two several administrations: the first is with Adam before his fall. . .The second administration of this covenant was the renewing thereof with the Israelites at Mount Sinai; where, after the light of nature began to grow darker, and corruption had in time worn out the characters of religion and virtue first graven in man’s heart, God revived the law by a compendious and full declaration of all duties required of man towards God or his neighbor, expressed in the decalogue; according to the tenor of which law God entered into covenant with the Israelites, promising to be their God in bestowing upon them all blessings of life and happiness, upon condition that they would be his people, obeying all things that he had commanded; which condition they accepted of, promising an absolute obedience, Ex.19:8, 'All things which the Lord hath said we will do;' and also submitting themselves to all punishment in case they disobeyed, saying, 'Amen' to the curse of the law, 'Cursed be every one that confirmeth not all the words of the law. . .' ” (From The Marrow, pp59-60). After quoting from Pemble, Fisher goes on to describe John Preston, a Mr. Polonus, and a Mr. Walker as adherents of this view. Ernest Kevan tentatively adds Vavasor Powell, Henry Burton (pp114-15) and Richard Sibbes (p127) as those who may have also held this view. Though this view was initially held by a few of the Puritans, it essentially came to characterize the views of Lutherans and Dispensationalists. Anthony Burgess notes of the Lutheran view: “It is true, the Lutheran Divines, they do expressly oppose the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by Moses, to be a Covenant of works, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of grace. Indeed, they acknowledge that the Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us; only they make that Covenant of Moses to be a superadded thing to the Promise, holding forth a condition of perfect righteousness unto the Jews, that they might be convinced of their own folly in their self-righteousness. But, I think, it is already cleared, that Moses his Covenant, was a Covenant of grace.” (Burgess, Vindiciae Legis, 251). Owen, though agreeing that most Reformed divines understood the old and new covenants to be varying administrations of one Covenant of Grace, still himself sided with the contrasting view of the Lutherans that affirms “not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that two covenants substantially distinct.” (cf. Beeke, ch17). Bavinck writes: “In Lutheranism the word 'testament' denotes the legalistic covenant established with Israel on Mount Sinai; and in this sense it essentially differs from, is opposed to, and is abolished by the New Testament.” (V3, p209). Richard Muller notes: “This difference between the Lutherans and the Reformed arises out of the dialectical relationship of law and gospel in Lutheranism as opposed to the simple distinction of law and gospel within the one foedus gratiae [covenant of grace] held among the Reformed.” (cf. Beeke). Berkhoff likewise notes of the Dispensational view: “present day dispensationalists. . .insist on [Sinai] that it was a different covenant, not only in form but in essence. Scofield speaks of it as a legal covenant, a 'conditional Mosaic covenant of works,' under which the point of testing was legal obedience as the condition of salvation.” (Systematic Theology). Ligon Duncan similarly notes: “for Dispensationalists, the Mosaic Covenant is basically a repetition of the Covenant of Works.” And again, “Classical Dispensationalism puts forth a dichotomy between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant. For them the Abrahamic Covenant is a covenant of Grace, but the Mosaic Covenant is a conditional Covenant of Works. . . Dispensationalists view Israel accepting the Mosaic Covenant as a major mistake; they should have said, we don't want law, we want grace.” See also Fairbairn, Revelation of Law, pp158-159.
12 Edward Fisher (The Marrow of Modern Divinity) in some places seems to hold this view; namely, that the Mosaic Covenant was a renewal of the original Covenant of Works: “Evan: [The 10 Commandments] were delivered to [Israel] as the covenant of works” (p53; cf. 53-65). But if we read him carefully, we discover that he is actually a proponent of the Mixed View (dealt with below). His assertion is not that the Mosaic Covenant was given as a covenant of works—but rather that the Decalogue, or 10 Commandments, were given as a covenant of works. Fisher later clearly differentiates his position from the Republication View, writing that after the giving of the Decalogue, “when the Lord had, by means of the covenant of works made with Adam, humbled them, and made them sigh for Christ the promised Seed, he renewed the promise with them, yea, and the covenant of grace made with Abraham.” (pp67ff). In other words, according to Fisher, the 10 Commandments were given as a covenant of works, but after the Israelites were laid low for their sin as exposed by the Decalogue; beginning with the book of the covenant (Exodus 20:22-23:33) and the ceremonial laws, God renews with them the Covenant of Grace. This is confirmed by what Fisher says later in The Marrow: “the old covenant, in respect of the outward form and manner of sealing, was temporary and changeable; and therefore the types ceased, and only the substance remains firm. . .And their covenant did at first and chiefly promise earthly blessings, and in and under these it did signify and promise all spiritual blessings and salvation; but our covenant promises Christ and his blessings in the first place, and after them earthly blessings. These, and some other circumstantial differences in regard to administration, there were betwixt their way of salvation, or covenant of grace, and ours; which moved the author to the Hebrews, Hebrews 8:8, to call theirs old, and ours new; but, in regard to substance, they were all one and the very same. . .in these covenants Jesus Christ is the subject matter of both, salvation the fruit of both, and faith the condition of both; therefore, I say, though they be called two, yet they are but one. . .” (pp71-72).
13 Scriptures such as quoted above: Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10-12; 4:21-27; and 2 Corinthians 3:6-7.
14 Lesson 2; III.5.
15 One reason for this is that when Adam violated the Covenant of Works, all of his posterity (including the Israelites under Moses) violated it in and through him. So, all Israel under Moses were already violators of the Covenant of Works. Roberts further explains: “For in the nature and tenor of it, it requires perfect and perpetual personal obedience; which cannot be after obedience is once interrupted by the least failure. Now in Adam's fall all his mere posterity in and with him brake the Covenant of Works; and therefore are forever rendered incapable of any Covenant of Works more.” (p744).
16 Francis Roberts puts in this way: “After the Covenant of Works was broken by Adam's fall, it cannot be proved that God did at any time after set on foot a covenant of works in the Church of God.” (Roberts, p739). And again: “As virginity once lost, can never be recovered; so the Covenant of works once violated, can never be repaired.” (Francis Roberts, p57).
17 Roberts, p744.
18 Jack Collins insightfully comments on Hebrews 4:2: “The author of Hebrews did not doubt whether the OT people had received the gospel; he says in [Hebrews] 4:2 that it came to us just as it did to them. (How different from what we have to say! We usually have to clarify that it came to them just as it did to us!)” (cf. Recurring Biblical-Theological Issues in OT studies).
19 Some holding to this view see the Covenant of Grace as beginning earlier, with Exodus 20:22. See following note.
20 Vos (though not adhering to it) describes the Mixed View in this way: “[The Ten Commandments] are regarded as a form of a new covenant of works that God established with Israel. God did not establish it with the intent that by it Israel could earn life, for through sin that had become completely impossible. The aim was to allow them to attempt it in their own strength. In Egypt, they had lost the awareness of their impotence. This awareness had to be revived, and the new covenant of works served that end. 'They were puffed up as it were with an absurd confidence in themselves and said, “All that the Lord has said we will do.” ' God then gives them the law. But when they saw the terrifying display of the smoking and burning mountain, of the dark cloud and the lightening, they soon perceived that they could not live by this covenant of works and therefore asked for Moses to be their mediator. In connection with the consciousness of guilt awakened in this way, God renewed with Israel the Abrahamic covenant of grace, as recorded in Exodus 24, to which the Levitical laws also belonged. 'The Book of the Covenant' [Exodus 20:22-23:33] was thus the summary of the covenant of grace, not the Decalogue engraved on stone tablets. In the ceremonial laws that were added later, the gospel element was resident.” (Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, V2, pp133-34). Thus, in this view, whereas the Moral Law is given as a covenant of works, the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22-23:33) as well as the subsequent Ceremonial Laws outlined in Exodus 24ff are to be understood as the renewing of the Covenant of Grace. It thus seems that proponents of this view may either see the Covenant of Grace as beginning with the book of the law (Exodus 20:22) or with Exodus 24:1. For though Fisher himself (whom Vos may be quoting in his description, on p64 of The Marrow), at one point speaks of the Covenant of Grace beginning in Exodus 24 (see below), he also affirms in another place that it was precisely after the giving of the Law in Exodus 20 that the Lord renewed with them the Covenant of Grace: “Thus you see, when the Lord had, by means of the covenant of works made with Adam, humbled them, and made them sigh for Christ the promised Seed, he renewed the promise with them, yea, and the covenant of grace made with Abraham.” (p67). Interestingly, this is the opposite view of Cocceius and his followers, who subscribed to a three-fold understanding of the Covenant of Grace (1. Before the law: Adam to Moses; 2. Under the law: Moses to Christ; and 3. After the law: Christ), and viewed the Moral Law as gracious and the Ceremonial Law as what was burdensome: “Cocceius taught that the Decalogue was a summary of the covenant of grace, made especially applicable to Israel. However, after the establishment of this gracious covenant upon the ten words, when Israel became unfaithful and fell into worship of the golden calf and broke the covenant, then as punishment the legal covenant of ceremonial institutions was established, that is, the covenant of grace as a much more rigorous and harsher administration. The servitude of the law first appears after the worship of the golden calf. And the element of servitude is found in the ceremonial law; that of grace, on the other hand, in the law of the Ten Commandments. . .[Fisher's view] is thus an opposite view from Cocceius and his school.” (Vos, Reformed Dogmatics).
21 Quote from The Marrow, p73. This is Fisher's view and Vos' description of the Mixed View (V2, pp133-34). Fisher writes: “the moral law did teach and show them what they should do, and so what they did not; and this made them go to the ceremonial law; and by that they were taught that Christ had done it for them; the which they believing, were made righteous by faith in him.” (pp73-75). The quotes in and of themselves are rich, beautiful and true; we would only disagree with where Fisher takes his conclusions. Fisher in fact does go on to declare that the old covenant at Sinai and the new covenant were indeed “in regard to substance. . .all one and the very same. . .[for] in these covenants Jesus Christ is the subject matter of both, salvation the fruit of both, and faith the condition of both.” (pp71-72). This immediately makes us think of Fisher as indeed a Dichotomist, viewing the Mosaic Covenant as in substance nothing different than the Covenant of Grace. But when Fisher declares that “in regard to substance, they were all one and the very same” (p71), it seems he is not speaking of the Mosaic Covenant as a whole (including also the Decalogue), but only of “their way of salvation, or covenant of grace, and ours;” that is, the portion of the mixed dispensation of the Mosaic Covenant that revealed the Covenant of Grace—not, it seems, the entire dispensation as a whole. This is so because it's quite clear reading pp53-65 of The Marrow that Fisher views the Decalogue to be given as a renewal of the Covenant of Works: “Ant: But whether were the ten commandments, as they were delivered to them on Mount Sinai, the covenant of works, or no? Evan: They were delivered to them as the covenant of works.” (p53). And again: “And in Deut. 4:13, Moses, in express terms, calls it a covenant, saying, 'And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even the ten commandments, and he wrote them upon tables of stone.' Now, this was not the covenant of grace. . .” (p58). Further, when it is asked of Evangelist whether any godly and modern writers agree with him on this point, Fisher cites Mr. Pemble and Mr. Walker, both of whom, as we have referenced under the Republication View, clearly see Sinai as a Covenant of Works. Fisher quotes Walker as saying: “the first part of the covenant, which God made with Israel at Horeb, was nothing else but a renewing of the old covenant of works.” (p60). It was only then, after God had renewed the Covenant of Works with Israel through the Decalogue, and had humbled them, that the Lord “renewed the promises with them, yea, and the covenant of grace made with Abraham.” (p67). When it is asked, “I pray, sir, how doth it appear that the Lord renewed that covenant with them?” Evangelist answers: “It plainly appears in this, that the Lord gave them by Moses the Leviticus laws, and ordained the tabernacle, the ark, and the mercy-seat, which were all types of Christ. . .” (p67). This is also how Fairbairn understands Fisher (see Revelation, p156). Thus, it seems Fisher viewed the Mosaic Covenant as mixed—the Moral Law given as a Covenant of Works, the Ceremonial as the Covenant of Grace.
22 This is the understanding of John Ball and Francis Roberts of the Mixed View (though not the view they adhere to). It's also how