We've been showing that the Mosaic Covenant wasn't a Covenant of Works, a Mixed Covenant, or a Subservient Covenant, but rather that it's simply another manifestation of the Covenant of Grace. We mentioned that there are three main objections to this view. The first had to do with the nature of the covenant at Sinai; this is the objection we just finished dealing with. The second objection has to do with the requirement of the covenant at Sinai; what it is that the Law demands. Paul says in Romans 10:5: “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows. . .” This same principle is echoed in Galatians 3:10-12, where Paul writes: “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.' Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident, for, 'The righteous man shall live by faith.' However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, 'He who practices them shall live by them.' ”1 Paul is telling us in these passages that the Law operates on a completely different system than that of faith. The Covenant of Grace requires faith, but the Law requires perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience. The Covenant of Grace says: “Believe in Christ and you shall live”, but the Law says: “Keep the commands and you shall live.” This creates a problem: If the Covenant of Grace operates on the principle of faith, but the Law is not of faith, how is it that the Mosaic Covenant can be part of the Covenant of Grace? If the Law and faith are two mutually exclusive systems, how can we say that Sinai is an administration of Grace? If what God requires in the Law is something totally different than what He requires in the gospel, how can we say that the Mosaic Covenant belongs to the Covenant of Grace?
OBJECTION II TO A GRACIOUS SINAI: THE REQUIREMENT OF THE MOSAIC COVENANT
1. GENERAL PASSAGES FROM THE LAW: Paul cites two passages here: In Romans 10:5, he cites Leviticus 18:5; and in Galatians 3:11-12, he cites both Deuteronomy 27:26 and Leviticus 18:5. But the Law is full of these kinds of Scriptures: In Exodus 19:5, the Lord tells His people: “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples. . .” Deuteronomy 4:1 says, “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live. . .”2 Deuteronomy 5:33 says, “You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you. . .” Deuteronomy 6:25 tells us, “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us.” Deuteronomy 7:12 says, “Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers.” Again, Deuteronomy 8:1 tells us, “All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land. . .” Moses says in Deuteronomy 11:26-27: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known.” And Deuteronomy 28 tells us: “The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. . .But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you” (vv9,15). We could list many other passages as well, but we can begin with these. What do these Scriptures mean? How are we to understand such passages?
2. GOSPEL OBEDIENCE IN THE LAW: The first thing we can say is that many of these kinds of passages3 have traditionally been understood as being actually evangelical in nature (rather than legal). Obedience is required—but in many of these passages, it may indeed be gospel obedience— rather than legal obedience, that God is commanding. That is, God is requiring of Israel to prove through their obedience to the Lord that they have actually embraced His covenant from the heart by faith. This is especially clear in passages such as Deuteronomy 7:9, “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” The passage tells us, in effect, that God blesses those who keep His commandments; but Calvin clarifies that “this indicates what kind of servants they are who have undertaken his covenant in good faith rather than expresses the reason why the Lord benefits them.”4 In other words, this passage isn't describing the cause of entering into God's blessing, but rather the characteristics of those who have entered into it. It's not saying our obedience is the means of salvation—it's saying our obedience is the mark of salvation. This passage isn't describing how to gain God's favor, but rather who it is that has gained it. We can understand many similar passages in the Law in the same way.5 And not only passages in the Law, but many other passages of Scripture. This is how we can understand the Beatitudes: When Jesus pronounces blessing on the poor in spirit, the gentle, and the pure in heart, He's not telling us how to enter into God's blessing, but who it is that has entered into it; He's not describing the means of obtaining God's favor, but the characteristics of those who have obtained it. This is also how we can understand what Jesus meant when He said in John 5:29 that “those who did the good deeds [will arise] to a resurrection of life”; or when He told the crowds in Luke 11:28, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Why are they blessed? Not because they can earn God's blessing by doing what He says—but rather because in doing what God says they show themselves to be the recipients of God's blessing by faith. This is what David was saying when he wrote in Psalm 103:17-18, “But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children, to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them.” David isn't saying that our obedience is the basis of our good standing with God, he's saying that it's the proof; he's not limiting the amount of God's grace, but simply qualifying who are the ones that have obtained it.6 This is also how we can understand passages in the New Testament epistles, such as Romans 8:13, where Paul writes: “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Here too, Paul isn't describing how to enter into life, but who are those that will enter into it; he's not speaking of the means of obtaining eternal life, but rather the marks of all those who will one day inherit it.7
3. PERFECT OBEDIENCE IN THE LAW: But though this principle helps us to interpret many passages in the Law, it still can't explain all of them. Paul makes it very clear in his references to Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 27:26 (in Romans 10:5-6 and Galatians 3:10-12) that, at the very least, these two passages are talking about something very different.8 In Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12, Paul tells us that Leviticus 18:5 sets forth a righteousness that is based on the Law, wherein the condition for eternal life is nothing short of perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience to God's commands:9 “He who practices them shall live [IE, be justified] by them.”10 This is a righteousness that is obtained by doing rather than believing. And not only does the Law offer us the blessing of God on the condition of perfect obedience, it also curses anyone and everyone who would fall short of it, for in Galatians 3:10 Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.” The Covenant of Grace tells us: Believe in order to live; but here the Law is telling us: Obey in order to live. And again, believing and doing are two mutually exclusive systems. So, if the Law is not of faith, how can the Mosaic Covenant be part of the Covenant of Grace?11
4. A TWO-FOLD UNDERSTANDING OF THE LAW: One of the most valuable things I've learned personally as I've studied through the Mosaic Covenant is how the older writers resolved this question. There is a single overwhelming answer that both the Reformers and Puritans give that resolves what must surely be the biggest difficulty in understanding the covenant at Sinai. What they tell us is that the Law must be considered from two different perspectives: As both largely and strictly considered. Largely considered, or taken on the whole, the Law refers to the entire doctrine delivered at Sinai, including not only the commands and precepts—but also the promises of Christ and gospel mercy, which are sprinkled throughout the books of the Law. And so, in its larger, wholistic sense, the Law in so many different ways sets forth Christ over and over again, and calls upon us to believe in Him as the way to God's blessing. But there are also times when the Law sets forth perfect obedience as the way to God's blessing. This is the Law Strictly considered; the Law as an abstracted rule of righteousness, that sets forth life upon no terms but perfect obedience, and threatens death to all who would come short of it. This is the way we can make sense of all the conflicting passages we read in the New Testament about the Law. How can it be that, on the one hand, Scripture tells us that Israel had the same good news preached to them under Moses that we do today (Hebrews 4:2,6; IE, the gospel); but that on the other hand, Scripture also tells us that Moses' ministry was a “ministry of death” and “condemnation” that actually “kills” (2 Corinthians 3:6-9)? How can we reconcile the fact that one Scripture tells us the ministry of Moses was a gospel ministry, and yet another Scripture tells us that Moses' ministry brought death and condemnation? By understanding that the New Testament writers themselves sometimes spoke of the Law as viewing it in its larger sense; but sometimes they spoke of it as viewing it in its stricter, abstracted sense. In other words, the reason we read two very different things about the Law in the New Testament is that the Law itself commands two very different things: On the one hand, the Law commands faith in Christ as the way to God's blessing (the Law as largely considered). But on the other hand, the Law also commands perfect obedience as the way to God's blessing (the Law as strictly considered). So then, the Law itself sets forth two very different ways to enter into God's blessing. And this is the reason we read such conflicting things about the Law in the New Testament. When the New Testament writers refer to the Law, sometimes they're speaking of it on the whole, as including gospel mercies, promises of grace, and atonement for sin through Christ. When they refer to it this way, they are speaking of the Law in its larger sense—as it sets forth faith in Christ as the way to God's blessing. But other times, when the New Testament writers refer to the Law, they're speaking of it as it is also often presented, as an abstracted rule of righteousness, demanding perfect obedience and cursing all who fall short. When they refer to it this way, they are speaking of the Law in its stricter sense—as it sets forth perfect obedience as the way to God's blessing.12
A) A Few Examples: This is exactly the tool we need to help us understand passages like Romans 10:5-6 and Galatians 3:10-12. In Romans 10:5-6, Paul tells us: “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.” Then in verse 6, he contrasts the righteousness that comes through the Law with the righteousness that comes by faith. But as we noted earlier, when Paul begins speaking of the righteousness that comes by faith, in verse 6, in order to describe it, he actually quotes a passage from the Law: “But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: 'Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down), or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).' But what does it say? 'The word is near You, in your mouth and in your heart'—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. . .” The passage Paul is quoting from here is Deuteronomy 30:11-14. Again: Paul is quoting here a passage from the Law in order to describe the righteousness that is by faith. And all this after he had just told us in verse 5 that the righteousness of the Law is something completely different than the righteousness of faith! How can we make any sense out of what Paul is saying here? By understanding that Paul is considering the Law from two different angles: If we take the Law strictly—as abstracted from all the promises of Christ and His redemption—then the Law indeed commands perfect obedience as the condition of life and condemns and curses all who fall short. This is Paul's meaning in verse 5. But if we take the Law as a whole, including the promises of Christ and His redemption that are scattered throughout the Law, we see that God, in the Law, is requiring faith in the Messiah who is often revealed in the Law in its larger sense. And this is Paul's meaning in verse 6.13
A similar passage is Romans 3:21-22, where Paul writes: “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe. . .” Speaking of Christ, Paul tells us here that the righteousness of God for salvation is apart from the Law (v21a) and yet witnessed by the Law (v21b). How to make sense of this? It seems Paul is contradicting himself. Is faith in Christ something separate from the Law (21a), or is it something actually taught in the Law (21b)? Here again, Paul is considering the Law in both its larger sense (including Christ) as well as its stricter sense (as abstracted from Him). The passage makes perfect sense if we read it this way: “But now apart from the Law [strictly taken] the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law [largely taken]. . .even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. . .” In other words, the righteousness of faith is apart from the Law strictly taken, but it is also revealed in the Law largely taken. I love how Francis Roberts puts it: “The Law itself testifies, that the righteousness of God is without [IE, apart from] the Law. . .”14
In Romans 3:21-22 and 10:5-6, Paul is considering the Law from both perspectives: in its strict sense—as abstracted from Christ and the promises, as well as in its larger sense—including Christ and the promises. In other passages, though, Paul refers only to the Law as considered in its strict sense. This is what he is describing in Galatians 3:10-12, where he tells us that “the Law is not of faith” (v12). We know that Paul can't mean this in an absolute or unqualified sense, because of what he had told us elsewhere in passages like Romans 3:21-22 and 10:5-6, where, once again, he had proven the righteousness of faith from the Law. Rather, Paul is speaking here of the Law in a particular sense—in its strict sense—as abstracted from the promises of Christ and the gospel, which were also revealed in the Law. And it's in this strict sense, where the Law commands perfect obedience and curses all who would fall short, that Paul is telling us the Law is not of faith. We might put it this way: The way of the gospel is in the Law but it's not of the Law. It's in the Law (largely taken), but not of the Law (strictly taken).15 This is also what Paul is referring to in 2 Corinthians 3:6-9, where he describes the Law as a ministry of death and condemnation that kills its hearers. Here also, Paul isn't speaking of the Law in a way that is absolute or unqualified, but rather in a particular sense: he's talking about the Law as it's considered strictly taken, removed and abstracted from Christ and the promises of grace that are revealed in the Law in its larger sense. And indeed, in and of itself and removed from Christ, the Law is very rightly described as a ministry of death, since all it can do is justly condemn us for our many sins.16 So then, though Paul at times considers the Law from both perspectives, at other times he only speaks of the Law in its strict sense. Consider the following chart:
B) A Few Clarifications: Towards the beginning of our lesson, we outlined the four major views of the Mosaic Covenant. There we refuted two views that claimed the Covenant of Works was republished at Sinai (the Republication View and the Mixed View). We concluded that the Mosaic Covenant was not a republication of the Covenant of Works in any way, but was rather simply another manifestation of the Covenant of Grace, and we gave several reasons for why we take it to be so. Well, we're now at the point where we're able to come full circle and clarify one final point about the Mosaic Covenant. And here's what it is: Though it's true that the Law largely taken belongs to the Covenant of Grace, it's also true that the Law strictly taken is actually the content of the Covenant of Works.17 Let me explain: The Law largely taken belongs to the Covenant of Grace, because it reveals Christ and the gospel and calls us to put our faith in Him. This is why the Mosaic Covenant is a manifestation of the Covenant of Grace, because the essence of the Mosaic Covenant is the Law as it is given largely, the Law taken on the whole—including the promises of Christ and redemption in Him. But though the Law largely taken belongs to the Covenant of Grace, the Law strictly taken actually contains the content of the Covenant of Works: Perfect obedience as the condition of eternal life is the arrangement that God originally entered into with Adam in the garden. Now, at first, this may sound like another form of the Mixed View; it sounds like we're saying that ultimately the Mosaic Covenant was a mix of the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Works. But this is quite distinct, because though the Mixed View tells us that Sinai contained both the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, they think of it in a way that is much different. The proponents of the Mixed View assert that at Sinai the Covenant of Works itself was again republished; we're saying that at Sinai the content of the Covenant of Works was simply repeated. They say that at Sinai the Covenant of Works itself was again reinstated; we're merely saying that at Sinai the terms of the Covenant of Works were again reiterated. The Mixed View holds that God was actually renewing the Covenant of Works with Israel at Sinai; we're just saying He was reminding them of its demands.18
Still, the question remains: If all this is true, how can it be that the Mosaic Covenant actually belongs to the Covenant of Grace? Jesus tells us that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and it's hard to imagine anything more at opposition than the way of works and the way of faith. If it's true that the Law strictly taken is really the content of the Covenant of Works, how can we say that the Mosaic Covenant belongs to the Covenant of Grace? How can anything that includes the content of the Covenant of Works actually be thought of as belonging to the Covenant of Grace? How can the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Works co-exist together at Sinai? The Puritans answered this question by making a distinction between what they called ingrediency and subserviency; or again, between coordination and subordination. What they meant was that, at Sinai, the Covenant of Works was not mixed or blended together with the Covenant of Grace (ingrediency), whereby these two very different covenants took on the form of one and the same covenant (coordination). It wasn't as if the Covenant of Grace, which requires faith alone, was mixed together with the content of the Covenant of Works, which requires perfect obedience, in such a way that they lost all distinction; so that as a result, Sinai now required both conditions: faith and obedience as the requirements for eternal life. Though the content of the Covenant of Works was declared at Sinai, it was never blended together with the Covenant of Grace, but remained distinct. It was added, not by way of ingrediency but rather subserviency; not by way of coordination but subordination. In other words, when God added the content of the Covenant of Works to Sinai, it wasn't like adding chocolate syrup to a glass of milk and stirring it up; it was like adding oil to water: though the content of the Covenant of Works was added to the Covenant of Grace, it remained distinct.19
Think of a bag of beef jerky. What's inside? Well, if you've eaten a lot of beef jerky in your life, you know that there are actually two things inside that bag. There are dozens of slices of original, teriyaki, or peppered flavored beef, smoked to perfection. But there is also something else in that bag. Among the slabs of delicious dried meat there is also a strange looking white packet of something called silica gel. You want to keep an eye out for these small white packets in your jerky bag; they always have written on them: “Do not eat” or “Do not consume” because they're not edible, and eating them can be hazardous. So why in the world do they put them in? Well, they put these packets in along with the meat in order to better preserve the taste of the jerky. In and of itself it is inedible and can even be dangerous—but it was never meant to be consumed. Its purpose is to better draw out the taste of the jerky you are meant to eat. Or think of the bay leaves you add to the delicious curry you're cooking on your stove. Now, the bay leaf is not the same thing as the curry of which it is a part. It's part of the curry but it's included in order to serve the curry as a whole. And when you add the bay leaf to the curry it doesn't dissolve into the curry—it retains its distinctive form as you cook it. So that even though the bay leaf is part of the curry, you can still distinguish it from the rest of the curry. Further, just as with the white packets in the beef jerky, you shouldn't try to eat the bay leaves: though part of the curry, they're not edible and can hurt you. So why do you put them in? Because they contribute to the overall taste and enjoyment of the curry as a whole.
This is exactly how the Law strictly taken functioned in the context of the Mosaic Covenant as it was given as a whole. It's how the content of the Covenant of Works was declared at Sinai on the one hand, and yet how the Mosaic Covenant as a whole belonged to the Covenant of Grace. The Mosaic Covenant as a whole was like that bag of beef jerky or the curry on the stove. The content of the Covenant of Works was indeed included in the Mosaic Covenant—but just like the little white packets in the bag of beef jerky or the bay leaves in the curry—it was never meant to be consumed but rather was added to Sinai by way of subserviency and subordination—to serve the larger purposes of the Mosaic Covenant as a whole. In other words, at Sinai, the content of the Covenant of Works was added to the Covenant of Grace in a way that submitted to the Covenant of Grace in order to serve the purposes of the Covenant of Grace.20
What did this look like in particular? How was it that the content of the Covenant of Works served to advance the purposes of the Covenant of Grace at Sinai? Simply put: the Law strictly considered was added in order to drive God's people to Christ as He was revealed in the Law largely considered. At Sinai, the demand of the Covenant of Works was repeated afresh in order to cause God's people to seek refuge alone in the Covenant of Grace. The command, “Do this and live” was given to Israel so that, considering the absolute perfection demanded in the Law, they would rather flee to Christ, the only hope for sinners, and in Him might, “Believe and live.” 21 Now, this is where so many of the Jews went wrong.
All they saw at Sinai was the command to obey, and obey perfectly; and taking only this command, they sought to establish their own righteousness through the works of the Law. Sadly, they never truly listened to Moses at all; for Moses in the Law wrote of Christ, and had they listened to Moses, they would have been led to seek refuge in Him (John 5:46).22 Indeed, they not only added many things to the Law, but they also took away from the Law Christ, the hope of salvation, revealed in the Law. For though the Law demands perfect obedience, the reason for such a requirement was never for us to actually try to earn life by obeying its precepts perfectly, but rather in being confronted with how far we come short of it, to flee to Christ. The purpose for which God set forth the Law at Sinai was always to lead men to the gospel.23
So then, it's true that the Law as it is strictly taken is very different than the Gospel. And it's truly vital that we never mix them together or confuse them: The Law tells us what is required for salvation; the gospel tells us how God has provided it for us. The Law issues commands; the gospel makes promises. The Law breaks guilty sinners; the gospel heals them. The Law declares what we must do; the gospel declares what God in Christ has done. The Law condemns sinners; the gospel justifies them. The Law brings conviction; the gospel brings comfort. The Law demands righteousness; the gospel provides it. The Law shows us our sin-disease; the gospel cures it. The Law gives the knowledge of sin; the gospel gives the knowledge of the Savior. So that, apart from Christ and the gospel, the Law is merely a letter that kills.24
But though the Law has a different function than the Gospel, they still always have the same goal: to bring sinners to Christ. And so, though they are very different, “the Law. . .is not opposite, but subordinate to the gospel.”25 Think of farming: You plow and you sow. But plowing itself never bears fruit. It's the sowing that bears fruit. So why plow? Because plowing prepares the way for the sowing. In and of itself, plowing actually destroys. But is plowing against sowing? No way. Why? Because though they have different functions, plowing and sowing both work together for the same goal; namely, to bring fruit from the earth. And it's the same with the Law and the gospel. Though the Law is very different than the Gospel, still, they are not contrary to one another (Galatians 3:21). In and of itself, the Law is indeed a ministry of death. But God's design in it is to lead us to the life that He has freely provided in Christ.
C) One Final Thought: There's one more reason that God gave us the Law in its strict sense at Sinai. Perfect obedience was commanded under Moses, not only to expose our own wretchedness under the Covenant of Works, but also to demonstrate the requirements Christ himself must fulfill for us under the Covenant of Grace. The older writers recognized that these two conditions—these two wholly opposing conditions—faith and obedience, were both given in the Law because they were equally necessary for our salvation, but in this way: faith is commanded in the Law (in its large sense) because it is required of us in the Covenant of Grace; perfect obedience is commanded in the Law (in its strict sense) because it is required of Christ in the Covenant of Grace. Evangelical faith and perfect obedience are both required at Sinai because both are equally necessary for our justification—but again, in this way: it's Christ's perfect obedience (not ours) that will justify us; but this perfect obedience can only be imputed to us by faith.
Turretin gives a beautiful summary of these things in his Institutes. He says: “Again, these two conditions are proposed because they are necessary to the salvation of the sinner: perfect obedience in Christ to fulfill the righteousness of the law. . .without which the justice of God did not permit life to be given to us; faith however in us that the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ might be applied to us and become ours by imputation. Thus what was demanded of us in the Covenant of Works is fulfilled by Christ in the Covenant of Grace. Nor is it absurd that in this way justification takes place by works and by faith—by the works of Christ and by our faith. And thus in sweet harmony the law and the gospel meet together in this covenant. The law is not administered without the gospel, nor the gospel without the law. So that it is as it were a legal-gospel and an evangelical-law; a gospel full of obedience and a law full of faith. So the gospel does not destroy the law, but establishes it (Romans 3:31) by giving us Christ, who perfectly fulfilled it. And the law is not against the gospel, since it refers and leads us to it as its end.”26
Francis Roberts also has condensed down many of the things we've been discussing into a beautifully rich section in his writings. It's a bit lengthy, but it's so valuable that I'd like to end by quoting him at length. He says: “I add therefore, for the unfolding of this mystery more clearly. . .these few considerations touching the Law or Sinai Covenant, and the condition of life and happiness therein revealed, [namely]:
1) “That the Sinai Covenant was purposely so dispensed as to tender life and happiness upon two opposite and contrary conditions; viz, works and faith; perfect doing, and believing: a) Upon perfect doing all in the Law: Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12 with Leviticus 18:5; the curse being denounced against the least failing, Galatians 3:10 with Deuteronomy 27:26. b) Upon believing in Jesus Christ the Messiah promised, Romans 3:21,22 and 10:6-12; compared with Deuteronomy 30:11-14. . .To deny this, which is so clear, will but tend to weaken Paul's authority, [and] to darken many Scriptures. . .
2) “That, in this Sinai Covenant these opposite conditions, of perfect doing under pain of curse and death, and of believing in Christ, are very differently required and revealed: a) Believing in Christ is revealed very sparingly and obscurely; b) perfect doing very frequently and plainly. . .Whence (as Calvin notes) though the whole ministration of the Sinai Covenant belongs to Moses' office; yet that function most properly. . .seems to be ascribed to him, which consisted in teaching what the true righteousness of works was, and what rewards or punishments attend upon the observers or breakers of the Law. . .
3) “That, though these two conditions of perfect doing, and believing, be thus differently revealed and required in the Sinai Covenant; yet believing in Christ unto life and righteousness was therein chiefly and ultimately intended, and perfect doing only urged upon Israel's subordination. . .and tendency to believing and the righteousness of faith, [for]. . .The Scripture, peculiarly the Law, hath hereby concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ may be given to them that believe. . .
4) “That, the condition of perfect doing under pain of curse and death, convincing the sinner of his sin and misery, leaves him hopeless in himself, not to trust in his own works. . .but the condition of believing gives him hope, without himself, in Jesus Christ, to trust to him alone for justification. . .
5) “That the Sinai Covenant tendered life and happiness upon these two opposite conditions of perfect doing under penalty of curse and death; and of believing in Christ; because both these conditions were necessarily required to the sinners' [eternal] happiness: [whether] in the sinner, or the sinners' Surety: a) Perfect doing of all God's Law upon pain of death was required to the sinners' happiness: because God's Covenant of Works, at first made with Adam and with all his posterity in him, but broken by them, cannot be eluded or evaded. They must do it, or die; otherwise God himself should not be just and true. Do it, in their own persons, they could not, because the flesh was weak; therefore they lie under the curse and death. This covenant hereupon. . .reveals the sinners' Surety Jesus Christ, who alone could satisfactorily bear this curse upon himself, and perform the duty of the Law to the uttermost, for the sinners' redemption and righteousness. b) Believing in Christ is also necessary to the sinners' happiness: because without faith his Surety's perfect doing and enduring cannot become his by imputation. . .
6) “That, perfect doing on pain of death, and believing in Jesus Christ are so required and conditioned in this Sinai Covenant, as to let all men see, that the penalty and duty of the Covenant of Works, have their plenary accomplishment in the Covenant of Faith [Grace] through Jesus Christ alone. . .Herein they are directed unto Jesus Christ by faith, for life and righteousness. Thus according to the tenor of the Sinai Covenant, the Covenant of Works has its perfect accomplishment in Christ—by doing and enduring, all which becomes ours—by believing. Thus the Covenant of Works is digested into, incorporated with, and wholly swallowed up by the Covenant of Faith. Thus perfect doing is attained by believing. . .
7) “That, the condition of perfect doing being thus attained by believing, with greatest ease unties the knots of many difficulties, and unveils the secret of many mysteries [and especially]. . .How sinners are at once justified by perfect doing, and by believing. By perfect doing, in Christ's person, to whom the Law drives them, by exacting impossibilities of them. By believing, in their own persons; whereunto the law allures them, by representing Christ as the scope and end of the Law to them. Thus it's no paradox for sinners to be justified, in the sight of God, both by works, and faith; by Christ's works, by their own faith . . .In themselves, through the weakness of the flesh, they can do nothing, as the Law requires. . .and yet in Christ, the perfect Performer of the Law, embraced by faith, they can do all things perfectly; Christ's perfect obedience being imputed to them by faith. This Sinai Covenant therefore, requires perfect doing from the sinner under pain of curse, that it may drive him from himself who can do nothing; and requires believing in Christ, that it may draw the sinner unto Christ, who has done all things that so the righteousness of the Law may be fulfilled in him. . .Hereby God will have us know, that neither God nor man shall lose by substituting the Covenant of Faith instead of the Covenant of Works, but rather both shall gain; God shall gain a better observance of His Law in the second Adam, than He had in the first; and man shall gain a better righteousness in Christ by faith, than ever they had in themselves before the fall. Thus the gospel does not overthrow, but establish the Law, by setting forth Christ the most perfect Performer of the Law.”27 We've charted out Roberts' main thoughts in the chart given below:
5. A CLOSING SUMMARY: We've been dealing with objections to the view that the Mosaic Covenant rightly belongs to the Covenant of Grace. The second objection had to do with the requirement of the Law at Sinai: How is it that the Mosaic Covenant, which demands perfect obedience as the condition of eternal life, is part of the Covenant of Grace, which requires faith apart from works? What we've shown is that the Law demands both perfect obedience and faith, but for very different reasons. We take the Mosaic Covenant to be part of the Covenant of Grace because, as a whole (largely taken), Moses not only points us to Christ, but also requires faith in this Messiah to whom he is pointing us (Romans 10:6). The requirement of perfect obedience as the condition of eternal life is indeed also given in the Law, yet it was never given as an alternate way of salvation—but rather in order to serve the purposes of the Covenant of Grace. The strict requirement of the Law confronts us with just how far short we fall of God's perfect standard, and was always meant to drive us to Christ for life, who is revealed in the Law more largely. Just like with silica gel in the packet of beef jerky, or the bay leaf in the pot of curry, the strict requirement of the Law was never meant to mix and blend together with the way of faith also revealed at Sinai, neither was it meant to oppose or contradict it, but rather its purpose was to compliment and serve the ends of the gospel. How so? The command “Do and live” was always meant to point us and drive us to Christ, that in Him we would “Believe and live.” The purpose for which God set forth the Law at Sinai was always to lead us to the gospel. Indeed, though it's even true to say that both evangelical faith and perfect obedience are demanded by the Law because they're both necessary for our salvation, still, the perfect obedience that alone saves us is Christ's obedience, which is then imputed to us through faith in Him.
1 In Romans 10:5-6, Galatians 3:10-12, and similar passages, the word “live” is to be taken as living eternally; IE, “be justified.” The word here is used in the same way our Savior uses it in Luke 10:28, where after the lawyer asks what to do in order to inherit eternal life and correctly summarizes the Law as outlined in Deuteronomy 6:5, Jesus tells him: “You have answered correctly; 'Do this and you will live.'” For a more in-depth explanation of how we know “live” is to be taken as “justified” in Galatians 3:10-12 in particular, see the third footnote in Section III.3 below (“Perfect Obedience in the Law”).
2 John Ball rightly notes that live in these passages refers primarily to eternal life: “Eternal life is promised in the Covenant [IE, at Sinai]. . .Not only long life and good days, in the land of Canaan, but eternal life is assured by the promise to them that keep Covenant, as eternal death and destruction is comprehended under the curse denounced against them that break the Covenant. . .eternal life is comprehended under the terms of life and blessing, as eternal death under the terms of death and the curse. Eternal life in heaven, eternal death in hell, the Law notes, though it does not expressly name them.” (p132).
3 Many of them—not all (some, such as Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 27:26, are exceptions). We'll get to these soon.
4 Institutes, 3.17.6. Calvin goes on to say: “Whenever, therefore, we hear that he does good to those who keep his law, let us remember that the children of God are there designated by the duty that ought in them to be perpetual.” And, “But again, let us keep in mind that the fulfillment of the Lord's mercy does not depend upon believers' works but that he fulfills the promise of salvation for those who respond to his call with upright life, because in those who are directed to the good by his Spirit he recognizes the only genuine insignia of his children.” (3.17.6). That Calvin sees this principle as applying to multiple similar passages is clear not only from his sermons on Deuteronomy, but also because he affirms in the same section (3.17.6) that among the promises of the law sprinkled throughout the books of Moses, “in them many evangelical promises also occur. . .” John Gill also understands Deuteronomy 7:9 in this way. He says, “See (Exodus 20:6) which are not the causes or conditions of his covenant and mercy, nor of his keeping them, but descriptive of the persons that enjoy the benefit thereof.”
5 As Ball notes: “In Scripture they are pronounced blessed, who keep the Commandments, and observe the Statutes and Judgements of the Lord; but withal their blessedness is said to consist in this, that God imputes not sin unto them, that their sins be forgiven, and transgressions covered. The true worshippers of God then are happy, not for their works, but because God is pleased to accept them in Christ, and to pardon their offenses. This is the true sense of those promises made to or spoken of them that walk in the perfect way, and do no iniquity. . .life and salvation [are] promised to them that observe and keep the Statutes, Judgements and Ordinances of the Lord, not for the dignity of the work, but through the mere grace and mercy of God pardoning transgressions and sins. . .” (p110). And again: “True it is the promises run upon this condition: 'If you obey My voice and do My Commandments.' But conditions are of two sorts, antecedent or consequent. Antecedent, when the condition is the cause of the thing promised or given. . .Consequent, when the condition is annexed to the promise as a qualification in the subject. . . And in this latter sense, obedience to the Commandment was a condition of the promise; not as a cause why the thing promised was vouchsafed, but a qualification in the subject capable, or a consequence of such great mercy freely conferred.” (Ball, p133). Speaking of Exodus 19:5, Roberts says: “Generally, that since entire constant obedience is not required in this Sinai Covenant in a Legal, but in an Evangelical sense; not as an exact condition of the Covenant of Works, but as an upright condition of the Covenant of Faith. . .And, being a Covenant of Faith, it could not formally require the condition of the Covenant of Works, as such. As the Covenant was Evangelical, so the conditioned obedience was Evangelical also. . .Particularly, sincere, entire and constant obedience was required in this Sinai Covenant. 1) Not as an Antecedent Condition of the Covenant, moving God to enter into Covenant with Israel, or meriting in any sense any such thing from God; but as a Consequent Condition of the Covenant, required by the Covenant from all that accept God's Covenant. 2) Not as performable Legally by a mans own mere natural ability, as it was in the Covenant of Works made with all, in the First Adam; but Evangelically, by supernatural ability from Christ, who gives both to will and to do; which ability also this Covenant promises. . . 3) Not as opposite to true faith and grace; as in the Covenant of Works, doing and works, were opposed to faith and grace, Adam was to have life by working in and from himself, not by believing in a Mediator; but as consequent from, and subservient to grace and faith. True obedience is a consequent fruit or effect of faith, and faith is a fruit of divine grace. 4) Not as a joint cause with faith in justification. . .but as a proper fruit and effect of true justifying faith. . .Faith justifies our persons before God, applying Christ's righteousness to that end; obedience sincere entire and constant justifies our faith before God, ourselves and men, God requiring true obedience from faith ourselves and others discerning and discovering truth of faith by true obedience.” (pp874-75). And of passages such as Deuteronomy 4:1; 5:33; 6:24-25 and 30:16, Blake says: “We may so interpret those Scriptures (and the Jews, as it appears for a great part, did so interpret them) that they hold out a Covenant of Works, when grace was not at all acknowledged to assist in doing, nor Christ known at all to satisfy for failing, and to expiate for transgression. . .[But] They may yet be so interpreted as taking grace in the work for change of the heart, and putting it into a posture for obedience, according to that even in Moses: 'I will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live,' (Deuteronomy 30:6), and so these duties are only gospel qualifications of truth and sincerity of obedience. In this sense (which they may well bear, and I take to be their native sense) here is no more than what we find in the gospel, from Christ and the Apostles: 'They that have done good, shall rise unto the resurrection of life' (John 5:28-29); [and], 'To them that by patient continuing in well-doing, seek for glory and immortality, eternal life' (Romans 2:5).” (p216). He concludes, “A righteousness, which is the condition of the Covenant of Works; out of our own inherent strength and abilities, in an exact perfection, is denied; a righteousness, not of us, but through grace wrought in us, in sincerity, which the Covenant of Grace calls for, is asserted and required.” (Blake, p218).
6 John Gill on Psalm 103:17-18: “not that the fear of God is the cause of mercy or grace; but, on the contrary, grace and mercy are the cause of the fear of God; which is a blessing of the covenant of grace, and one of the first things which appear in conversion; but this properly describes the persons who openly and manifestly share in the grace or mercy of God. . .”
7 Perkins says of Romans 8:13: “The promises of the gospel are not made to the work, but to the worker; and to the worker not for his work, but for Christ's sake, according to his work. As for example, promise of life is made not to the work of mortification, but to him that mortifies his flesh, and that not for his mortification, but because he is in Christ, and his mortification is the token or evidence thereof.” (Galatians, p171). And of Galatians 6:6-7, Perkins says: “the Papists reason thus: works are seeds; but seeds are the proper cause of the fruit; therefore good works are the proper cause of eternal life, and not faith only. . .[But] the Apostle [here] shows only who they are that shall inherit eternal life; and the order how life is attained; but not the cause wherefore it is given. . .We are just by faith, but we are known to be just by our works. . .Now a tree is not known what it is by his sap, but by his fruit; neither are men known to be just by their faith, but by their works. Indeed a tree is therefore good, because his sap is good; but it is known to be good by his fruit. So, a man is just, because of his faith, but he is known to be just by his good works; therefore seeing that the last judgement must proceed according to evidence that is upon record. . .all must be judged by their works, which are evident and apparent to the view of all men, and not by their faith, which is not exposed to the sight of any. And hence it is that the Scripture says, we shall be judged according to our works, but it is nowhere said, for our good works. . . good works are the way, but not the cause [of life]. . .In the evangelical covenant, the promise is not made to the work, but to the worker; and to the worker, not for the merit of his work, but for the merit of Christ. . .” (Galatians, pp499-501). The Scriptures we've been referring to describe 1) the HEIRS OF LIFE, but a similar yet distinct way to understand these kinds of passages evangelically is as describing 2) the PATH OF LIFE. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4:8 that, “godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Here Paul is saying that the outcome of a life of godliness is eternal life. Godliness results in eternal life. A life of godliness isn't the basis or means of our salvation, but it is the narrow road by which we must walk in order to obtain it. It's the same truth Christ spoke of when He said: “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14). It's the narrow way that leads to eternal life; there's no other way to get there. We aren't saved by our godliness, but in a very real sense, we can't be saved without it. The narrow path is the only path that that results in eternal life: “It is not the foundation by which believers stand firm before God that is described but the means whereby our most merciful Father introduces them into his fellowship, and protects and strengthens them therein.” (Calvin, Institutes, 3.17.6). It may be that passages such as Deuteronomy 5:33 and 8:1 are best interpreted in this way. Still yet, other passages seem to describe 3) the MEANS OF LIFE in an evangelical sense; that is, some passages in the Law seem to actually command faith. In Exodus 19:5 the Lord tells His people, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples. . .” In the literal Hebrew, it says “if you will listen to My voice.” A similar passage is Deuteronomy 4:1: “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live. . .” Literally, “listen. . .that you may live.” Here, life is contingent on listening, and this listening seems to be gospel listening—the listening of faith. Compare Isaiah 55:3 (“Listen, that you may live”); Galatians 3:2,6 (“the hearing of faith”); and Hebrews 3:15 and 4:7 (where Israel fails to listen to God's voice, which is associated with the message of good news preached to them; cf. Psalm 95:7). This listening seems to be synonymous with faith in Deuteronomy; indeed, these passages seem to be commanding faith. Colquhoun draws this out from Deuteronomy 5:27, noting: “they do not say, as they did, before the publication of the law at Sinai, 'All that the Lord hath spoken, we will do;' but, 'We will hear and do.' For speaking in this strain, the Lord commended them thus: 'They have well said all that they have spoken'. . .They said well, in that they made hearing or believing, the principle of acceptable obedience.” (pp65-66). Even when obedience is mentioned together with listening (cf. 7:12), we may regard it as commanding that true faith that produces obedience as its fruit (cf. Matthew 7:24).
8 It may even be the majority of these passages quoted above are commanding perfect obedience. It's not an easy thing to discern. One example of just how difficult it can be to classify certain passages is Calvin, who in his Institutes classifies Deuteronomy 7:12-13 (along with “a thousand other passages of the same type”) as commanding perfect obedience as the cause of life (see 3.17.1), and yet in his sermons on Deuteronomy, speaks of the same passage as rather describing evangelical obedience as the proof of eternal life. Though there were exceptions (see Ball and Blake above), most of the Puritans were hesitant to classify particular passages, preferring to rather cite Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 27:26 as very sure examples.
9 This is the language of the Westminster Larger Catechism, #93.
10 We know that in this passage, “live” is speaking of justification (as opposed to “walk according to,” which would indeed be redundant) because of the context. Paul says this in Galatians 3:12; and in the verse just prior, he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 telling us that “The righteous man shall live [IE, again: be justified] by faith.” And we know that “live” in verse 11 is speaking of justification because Paul makes that very clear: “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident, for, 'The righteous man shall live by faith.'” IE: We know no one is justified by the Law because Scripture says we are justified by faith.
11 Bolton lists no less than 6 separate possible interpretations of Leviticus 18:5 (True Bounds, pp104-06). Ball tried to exposit Leviticus 18:5 in the same way as the other places in the Law that require an evangelical obedience. He says: “These words, 'Do this and live,' must not be interpreted, as if they did promise life upon a condition of perfect obedience, and for works done in such exactness as is required; but they must be expounded evangelically, describing the subject capable of life eternal, not the cause why life and salvation is conferred. . .[these] passages are to be understood of sincere and upright walking, and show who are justified, and to whom the promises of life pertain, but not why they are justified” (pp136-37). But Roberts is right to humbly correct him. Quoting Ball here, Roberts says: “But this interpretation (though in itself very pious) comes not home to satisfy and remove the force of the objection; and therefore I cannot acquiesce in it. For, it may be easily replied: That, Do this and live, has something more in it, than those other passages of Scripture alleged by him. They may be interpreted Evangelically, but this phrase in the passages objected can hardly be so interpreted. Partly, because Doing, in those Scriptures is directly opposed to Believing, as to the point of justification and life (Lev. 18:5 with Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12). Here the Apostle purposely compares the righteousness of works and the righteousness of faith together (says Calvin) that he may the better show the repugnancy of them one to another. Partly, because the curse is denounced upon the least failing (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10). But failings in Evangelical obedience are covered, not cursed. . .” (p773). We should also note that though Ball seems to deny that the Law sets forth eternal life upon condition of perfect obedience, at least in Leviticus 18:5; still, in other places, he equally affirms that it does just that: “The Law in itself considered exacted perfection of works as the cause of life; but when that was impossible to man by reason of the infirmity of his flesh, it pleased the Lord to make known to his people by the ministry of Moses, that the Law was given, not to detain men in confidence of their own works, but to lead them unto Christ.” (pp113-114). Again: “For though the Law of righteousness promise a reward to the keepers thereof; yet after it has shut up all men under sin, it does substitute another righteousness in Christ, which is received by faith” (p114). And again: “the Law. . .exacts perfect obedience of man in his own person” (p114). Later, Ball clarifies, saying: “Perfect obedience is commanded, that if a man will trust in his works to be justified thereby, he must either bring that which is every way complete, or be cast in judgment. Sincere obedience, though imperfect is approved, that the imperfection of their best works being covered, and their transgressions graciously pardoned, they might be accepted by faith in Christ, who is the end of the Law, as righteous unto eternal life. . .The Law requires perfect and exact obedience. . .and he that trusts in his works, if he continues not in everything that is written in the book of the Law to do them, he is accursed. But to them that be in Covenant, the Law was given with such moderation, that sincere obedience was accepted of them. . .” (p135). Some today seem to want to deny that the Law truly demands perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience as the condition for life and curses all who come short of it. But this denial not only opposes the Westminster Confession (Chapter 19); it also opposes the clear teaching of Scripture itself. The OPC Report on Republication helps to bring needed clarity as they address one view they see as erroneous: “the view that we have referred to as the 'misinterpretation' theory has sometimes been articulated in such a way as to deny the requirement of perfect obedience in the moral law. In other words, Paul’s references to the law’s requirement for perfect obedience exist only in the minds of the Judaizers, and are not in some way expressed in the content of the Decalogue itself. This presentation of the misinterpretation theory sees the law’s requirement of perfect obedience existing only subjectively in the minds of the Jews, rather than objectively in the law itself. . .Surely these are errors to be avoided. A better way to articulate the misinterpretation position is to recognize that while the law itself always requires perfect obedience, it can also have several functions and uses in this regard. . .this [more correct] articulation of the misinterpretation position distinguishes between the law in itself and the use or function of the law. While it affirms that the Judaizers abused the law in its use, it recognizes that the law itself always requires perfect obedience.” (OPC Report, Ch.6, IV).
12 Roberts notes: “Now here it is diligently to be observed, that the word 'Law', as used for God's Law given to Moses for Israel on Mount Sinai, is taken, 1) More largely; 2) More strictly; and 3) Most strictly: 1) More largely and generally, for the whole dispensation of all sorts of commandments: Moral, Ceremonial, and Judicial; given and promulged on Mount Sinai. . . 2) More strictly, and specially for the Moral Law, or Ten Commandments, taken complexively with the preface prefixed, and the promises interwoven therein, as God spoke them on Mount Sinai out of the midst of the fire to Israel, and afterwards wrote them, and gave them to Moses. . . 3) Most strictly, and restrainedly; the word [Law] is taken for The Law abstracted from Moses' administration of it, and precisely considered as an abstracted rule of righteousness, holding forth life merely upon terms of perfect and perpetual personal obedience and denouncing death and the curse upon every one, and that without mercy, in case of the least contrary failing.” (pp659-60). And again: “the Law may be considered, more largely, as comprehending the whole doctrine and administration of the Sinai-covenant, as delivered by Moses on Mount Sinai; [but also] more restrictively, as it is an abstracted rule of righteousness consisting in precepts, threats and promises; holding forth life upon a condition absolutely impossible to lapsed men; viz, perfect and perpetual personal obedience to the Law; but denouncing the curse and death upon the least contrary failing.” (Roberts, p773). Burgess writes: “The Law. . .may be considered more largely, as that whole doctrine delivered on Mount Sinai, with the preface and promises adjoined, and all things that may be reduced to it; or more strictly, as it is an abstracted rule of righteousness, holding forth life upon no terms, but perfect obedience. Now take it in the former sense, it was a Covenant of Grace; take it in the latter sense, as abstracted from Moses' administration of it, and so it was not of grace, but works. This distinction will overthrow all the objections against the negative.” (p233). Blake says: “Though the whole Law that Moses delivered from God on Mount Sinai to the people. . .do contain a Covenant of Grace, yet the Law is taken sometime[s] in that strict sense, as containing a Covenant of Works, and holding forth life upon condition of perfect obedience. So the Apostle, [in] Romans 10:5-6 puts an opposition between the righteousness of the Law, and the righteousness of faith; so also Galatians 3:18. If righteousness be by the Law, it is no more of promise, so that there is a necessity of distinguishing between the Law abstracted from the promise. . .and the Law including this promise. . .so that the works of the Law, considered in the bare mandatory part of it, can save none. . .yet the righteousness witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-22). . .brings salvation (Romans 3:21-22). . .So that the Law abstracted from Christ. . .was a ministry of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:9). . .but including Christ, it was perfect, and saves the soul (Psalm 19:7).” (pp218-219). And Kevan affirms all this when he says: “The Puritans. . .[distinguished] between the Law, in the narrow sense of the Divine requirements of man, and the Law in the wider sense of the whole Mosaic order of things. 'More strictly and properly the Law signifies the Covenant of works, which is also called the Law of works, Rom. 3:27. . .more largely Torah the Law signifies the whole doctrine of the Old Testament' . . .Put briefly, the Law can be considered as it is an 'abstracted rule of righteousness', or as comprehending 'the whole Doctrine and Administration of the Sinai-Covenant.' ” (p110; quoting Roberts pp773-74).
13 As Calvin says of Romans 10:5: “But we ought to understand the reason why Paul harmonizes the law with faith, and yet sets the righteousness of one in opposition to that of the other: The law has a twofold meaning; it sometimes includes the whole of what has been taught by Moses, and sometimes that part only which was peculiar to his ministration, which consisted of precepts, rewards, and punishments. . .But as evangelic [IE, evangelistic] promises are only found scattered in the writings of Moses, and these also somewhat obscure, and as the precepts and rewards, allotted to the observers of the law, frequently occur, it rightly appertained to Moses as his own and peculiar office, to teach what is the real righteousness of works, and then to show what remuneration awaits the observance of it, and what punishment awaits those who come short of it. For this reason Moses is by John compared with Christ, when it is said, 'That the law was given by Moses, but that grace and truth came by Christ.' (John 1:17). And whenever the word law is thus strictly taken, Moses is by implication opposed to Christ; and then we must consider what the law contains, as separate from the gospel. Hence what is said here of the righteousness of the law, must be applied, not to the whole office of Moses, but to that part which was in a manner peculiarly committed to him. . .[But in verse 6] He then means not the law only, but generally the whole of God's truth, which includes in it the gospel.”
14 Roberts' full quote is: “The Law itself testifies, that the righteousness of God (viz, which God has ordained, revealed, and will accept), is without the Law; that is, by faith without the deeds of the Law.” (p787). In the quote, he refers to the Law as largely taken in the first usage of the word, and strictly taken in the second usage. Again, Roberts says: “In both the former [larger] and latter [strict] sense, the word 'Law' seems to be used in that passage, [Romans 3:21-22]: 'But now apart from the Law [IE, strictly taken] the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law [IE, largely taken] and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe'. . .[Thus] the Law largely taken, holds forth life on condition of believing in Christ, and in this notion it was given in the Sinai-covenant, which therefore is a Covenant of Faith [IE, Grace]; [but] the Law strictly taken requires perfect doing, and in that sense Moses gave it not, nor is it a Covenant of Faith but of works.” (Roberts, pp773-75). Roberts isn't saying that we're wrongly imputing the strict sense into our understanding of the Law, but only that in this sense the Law is not of faith but of works. Most commentators understand the second usage of 'Law' in Romans 3:21 as referring to the entirety of the first 5 books of Moses, as the phrase “Law and Prophets” often takes on this meaning (cf. Matthew 22:40). But this in no way nullifies the point we're making here, since even that broader definition of the Law always also includes the dispensation at Sinai (indeed, Sinai makes up the majority of the Pentateuch). Thus Calvin comments on Romans 3:21: “This righteousness then, which God communicates to man, and accepts alone, and owns as righteousness, has been revealed, he says, without the law, that is without the aid of the law; and the law is to be understood as meaning works; for it is not proper to refer this to its teaching, which he immediately adduces as bearing witness to the gratuitous righteousness of faith. . .Being proved (or approved) by the testimony, etc. He adds this, lest in the conferring of free righteousness the gospel should seem to militate against the law. As then [IE, v21a] he has denied that the righteousness of faith needs the aid of the law, so now [IE, v21b] he asserts that it is confirmed by its testimony. . .you will find in the commandments a demonstration of your iniquity, and from the sacrifices and oblations you may learn that satisfaction and cleansing are to be obtained in Christ alone.” In his Institutes, Calvin also notes: “Paul. . .justly makes contraries of the righteousness of the law and of that of the gospel (Rom. 3:21ff; Gal.3:10ff; etc). But the gospel did not so supplant the entire law as to bring forward a different way of salvation. Rather, it confirmed and satisfied whatever the law had promised, and gave substance to the shadows. . .Hence Paul, calling the gospel 'the power of God unto salvation for every believer' (Rom.1:16p), presently adds: 'The Law and the Prophets bear witness to it' (Rom.3:21). . .From this we infer that, where the whole law is concerned, the gospel differs from it only in clarity of manifestation.” (Institutes, 2.9.4). Haldane likewise says of Romans 3:21: “Being witnessed by the law. . .[the righteousness of faith] was intimated in the writings of Moses, in every declaration of the forgiveness of sin, and every call to repentance. All the declarations of mercy that are to be found in the law of Moses belong to the Gospel. They are all founded on the Messiah and His righteousness, and are made in consequence of God's purpose to send His Son in the fulness of time into the world, and of the first promise respecting the seed of the woman.” (Romans). Murray notes of this passage: “We have here an instructive example of the ease with which the apostle can turn from one denotation of the word 'law' to another. The righteousness that is unreservedly without law in one sense of the word 'law' is, nevertheless, witnessed to and therefore proclaimed by the law in another sense of that term. Law in one sense pronounces the opposite of justification, the law in another sense preaches justification.” (Romans, p110).
15 Speaking of Galatians, Calvin asserts: “[Paul] was disputing with perverse teachers who pretended that we merit righteousness by the works of the law. Consequently, to refute their error he was sometimes compelled to take the bare law in a narrow sense, even though it was otherwise graced with the covenant of free adoption.” (Institutes, 2:7:2). Turretin unpacks Calvin, saying: “The law is said 'to be not of faith' (Galatians 3:12), not as taken broadly and denoting the Mosaic economy, but strictly as taken for the moral law abstractly and apart from the promises of grace. . .” (p267). And Francis Roberts likewise notes: “Most strictly, and restrainedly; the word [Law] is taken for the Law abstracted from Moses' administration of it, and precisely considered as an abstracted rule of righteousness. And in this sense the Apostle takes the word [Law] in his dispute about justification by faith, and not by the works of the Law; opposing Law, to Gospel and to Grace; works, to faith; and justification by works, to justification by faith. . .'But that no man is justified by the Law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith. And the Law is not of faith: but, the man that doth them, shall live in them'. . .In these, and like passages, the word Law is considered in this most restrictive sense, as abstracted and separated from all other additionals in Moses' administration of it. And in this strictest sense, the Law is materially and for substance the same with the Covenant of Works written in Adam's heart in innocency. . .” (p660). Again Roberts says: “That, whereas Paul elsewhere says, 'The Law is not of faith', that is, sets not forth the righteousness of faith, Galatians 3:12, to this I answer. . .that this cannot be meant of the Law, absolutely taken (for then, you see, Paul should contradict himself, who proves the righteousness of faith from the Law, as revealed [in Romans 10:6ff]); but it must needs be intended of the Law in some limited and restrictive sense. . .this cannot be meant of the Law, more generally and complexively taken. . .but it may be intended of the Law, more strictly and abstractively taken, for the mere preceptive part of the Law, as declarative of, and in substance one with the Law of nature in Adam's heart, and as abstracted from Moses administration. . .” (pp767-68). And again: “the Law may be considered, more largely, as comprehending the whole doctrine and administration of the Sinai-covenant, as delivered by Moses on Mount Sinai; [but also] more restrictively, as it is an abstracted rule of righteousness. . .In the latter sense Paul understands the Law in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 and in this sense, the righteousness of the Law stands in perfect doing: 'the man that does them shall live in them'. . .But this acceptation of the Law abstracts the Law from Moses' dispensation of it, from faith, and from Christ the soul of the Law; and so leaves the Law as a mere ministry of death and condemnation. . .To this effect says one, 'The Law in itself considered, exacted perfection of works as the cause of life; but when that was impossible to man by reason of the infirmity of his flesh, it pleased the Lord to make known to his people by the ministry of Moses, that the Law was given, not to detain men in confidence of their own works but to lead them unto Christ'”. . .(Roberts, pp773-74).
16 John Ball says: “The words of Paul [that the Law is a killing letter and ministration of death and condemnation]. . .are not to be understood absolutely of the Law, but as it was separated from Christ and the gospel. . .the Law animated by Christ is pleasant and delightful, but as it is barely considered in opposition to Christ and to the gospel, as it exacts perfect obedience, but gives no ability or power to perform what is required, it wounds, terrifies, kills and works wrath. Of the Law there is a twofold use and consideration. One as it is a rigid exactor of entire obedience, and hand-writing against us for sin, and thus of itself barely considered, it wounds, but heals not, it revives sin, but mortifies it not. The other, as it points to Christ in whom salvation is to be found, and directs how to walk in all well-pleasing before the Lord; and thus it is an easy yoke. The Law considered without Christ wounds, kills, and revives sin by reason of our corruptions; but the Law considered in Christ, and as it points unto him, kills corruption, and converts the soul.” (pp120-121). Vos notes: “The covenant with Israel served in an emphatic manner to recall the strict demands of the covenant of works. . .It is for this reason that in [2 Corinthians 3:7 and 9], Paul calls the ministry of Moses a ministry of condemnation. This simply shows how the demand of the law comes more to the fore in this dispensation of the covenant of grace.” (Reformed Dogmatics, V2, p130). Bavinck adds: “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. . .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. . .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. ” (Volume 3, p222).
17 This is the position of the great majority of the Puritans who subscribed to the Westminster view. Of Galatians 3:10-12, Roberts says: “In these, and like passages, the word Law is considered in this most restrictive sense, as abstracted and separated from all other additionals in Moses' administration of it. And in this strictest sense, the Law is materially and for substance the same with the Covenant of Works written in Adam's heart in innocency. . .” (p660). And Turretin writes that broadly taken, the old covenant contained “the doctrine of grace delivered to the ancients, promising salvation and life. . . under the condition of repentance and faith in the Messiah about to come. . .Strictly, however, it denotes the Covenant of Works or the moral law given by Moses—the unbearable burden of legal ceremonies being added, absolutely and apart from the promise of grace.” (pp233-234). And again: “The Mosaic Covenant may be viewed in two aspects: either according to the intention and design of God and in order to Christ; or separately and abstracted from him. In the latter way, it is really distinct from the Covenant of Grace because it coincides with the Covenant of Works and in this sense is called the letter that killeth and the minstration of condemnation when its nature is spoken of (2 Corinthians 3:6-7). But it is unwarrantably abstracted here because it must always be considered with the intention of God, which was, not that man might have life from the law or as a sinner might be simply condemned, but that from a sense of his own misery and weakness he might fly for refuge to Christ.” (Turretin, p267). And Vos likewise: “Even after the covenant of works is broken, perfect keeping of the law is presented as a hypothetical means for obtaining life. . .” (V2, p41). And again: “The covenant with Israel served in an emphatic manner to recall the strict demands of the covenant of works. To that end, the law of the Ten Commandments was presented so emphatically and engraved deeply in stone. This law. . .truly contained the content of the covenant of works. But—and one should certainly note this—it contains this content as made serviceable for a particular period of the covenant of grace. It therefore says, for example, 'I am the Lord your God'. . .But also, beyond the Decalogue, there is reference to the law as a demand of the covenant of works (e.g., Lev 18:5; Deut 27:26; 2 Cor 3:7,9). It is for this reason that in the last cited passage, Paul calls the ministry of Moses a ministry of condemnation. This simply shows how the demand of the law comes more to the fore in this dispensation of the covenant of grace.” (Vos, V2, p130). And Hodge: “[The Mosaic Covenant] contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works.” (Systematics, V2).
18 The Puritans were always very careful in how they used their language here. The overwhelming majority of them (who held to the Westminster view) never affirmed that the Covenant of Works itself was actually republished or renewed at Sinai along with the Covenant of Grace, but clarified that the content of the Covenant of Works was rather there repeated or reiterated. They are clear in the way they articulate their view that it wasn't that the Covenant of Works was made again at Sinai—but rather that there it's terms were again declared afresh (see my Abstracts for more). John Colquhoun summarizes them when he writes: “the covenant made with the Israelites at Sinai could not be the Covenant of Works. God could not consistently. . .renew or make again that covenant with persons who, by breaking it in the first Adam, had already subjected themselves to the penalty of it. He could, indeed, display it in its terror before condemned sinners, but could not again make it with them. . .The violated Covenant of Works. . .was not, and could not be, made or renewed with the Israelites at Sinai; for it was a broken covenant. . .But though it was not renewed with them, yet it was, on that solemn occasion, repeated and displayed to them. It was not proposed to them in order that they might consent, by their own works, to fulfill the condition of it; but it was displayed before them in subservience to the Covenant of Grace that they might see how impossible it was for them as condemned sinners to perform that perfect obedience which is the immutable condition of life in it. Although the Lord knew well that they were far from being able to yield perfect obedience, yet He saw proper to set forth eternal life to them upon these terms (Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 27:26). . .in order that the people might, by contemplating it, see what kind and degree of righteousness it required as the condition of eternal life; and that by means of it, finding themselves utterly destitute of perfect righteousness, they might be impelled to take hold of the Covenant of Grace in which the perfect righteousness of the second Adam is provided and exhibited for the justification of all who believe.” (Colquhoun, pp58,63-64).
19 William Strong uses the language we mentioned above. He says, “God's intention was not to join the Law and the promise together in the matter of justification and life; because they be quite cross and contrary one to another. . .[and] do directly destroy each other; [for] if the inheritance be by the Law, it is no more of promise; and therefore no man can be justified by both. Yet God having revealed the Law after the promise, and seeing he will have them both to be perpetual and lasting, they must stand together, and a way must be found out how they may, and not cross one another, nor destroy or disannul each other; for the Law is not against the promise of God, God forbid we should think so; then if they cannot stand together in a way of ingrediency, they may very well in a way of subserviency; if not coordination, they may in subordination; both tending to honor the mercy and grace of God in his Son; the one primarily, and the other secondarily, as an appendix or an addition thereunto. . .Seeing therefore these two must stand together, and the former cannot be disannuled by the latter; hence then it must needs be inferred, that God's intention was in publishing the Law, to do it in subordination unto the gospel, and the second covenant, and that so it is to stand and to be made use of by the Saints.” (Strong, Two Covenants, p87).
20 As Turretin says: “The specific difference of a covenant cannot make a diversity of condition, expressed by the law and gospel—of the former imperfect obedience; of the latter in faith. It was not required in the same way, nor for the same end. For faith in Christ is demanded primarily and intended chiefly, but perfect obedience (under punishment of death and the curse) only subordinately and relatively to faith and the righteousness of faith. By convincing man of his sin and weakness, it forced him to seek a remedy in Christ by faith (as we have already said).” (p268). And again: “It is one thing to speak of the law in itself (which had the form of a Covenant of Works and was enacted not with the end of making alive, but to convict of transgression, extort the confession of debt and lead to Christ); another concerning the Sinaitic covenant itself, in which the law was enacted. In the former sense, the law is called a handwriting against us and the minister of condemnation (2 Cor. 3:9; Col. 2:14); but in the latter sense, that covenant had the lively oracles (Acts 7:38) and contained the saving promises of the grace of Christ.” (Turretin, p269). And Bavinck says, “Concerning the law as law, apart from the promises, to which in the Old Testament the law was made subservient, Paul asserts that it cannot justify, that it increases sin, that it is a ministry of condemnation [2 Cor. 3:9], and precisely in that way prepares the fulfillment of the promise and necessitates another righteousness, that is, the righteousness of God in Christ by faith.” (IV:452-53). Bridge puts it beautifully: “It is plain and clear that the Jews that were saved in the time of the Old Testament, were saved by the same covenant that we now are saved by. . .But though those Jews that were saved were saved by the same covenant that we now are saved by, yet notwithstanding the covenant of works was declared and promulgated among the Jews; 'Wherefore then was the law added?' says the apostle. Added then it was. As Sarah and Hagar, made types of the two testaments by the apostle, were at once in Abraham's house; so the old covenant of works, and the new covenant of grace were at once in the Jewish church. But though both these covenants were at once in the Jewish church, the one [was] declared and the other [was] made with them; though Hagar was in the same house, yet it was in subserviency unto Sarah; and though the covenant of works was declared and was there at the same time, yet it was in subserviency unto the covenant of grace; 'It was added, wherefore?' says the apostle, because of transgression, to be a schoolmaster to bring to Christ. It was there in subserviency, and upon a gospel design. . .” (pp48-49).
21 Roberts says: “this Sinai Covenant was in such sort administered, as to press upon them the perfect fulfilling of the Law, as most necessary to life and salvation, denouncing the curse upon the least failing; but withal revealing to them, that this perfect fulfilling of the Law in their own persons being utterly impossible, he was pleased to accept it in Christ their Surety, perfectly fulfilling it on their behalf, and bearing the curse for their offenses, according to the intimation of the many types and ceremonies in the Law. By exacting of them perfect obedience, impossible to them, it takes them off their own seek[ing] for righteousness by their own doing; by representing Christ's perfect obedience and sufferings as a remedy, it teaches them to seek for righteousness by Christ's perfect obedience, through faith in him.” (p768). Burgess says: “Now when we speak of the Moral Law. . .that may be considered two ways. 1) Either rigidly, and in an abstracted consideration from the administration of it, as it does require perfect obedience, and condemning those that have it not. . . 2) Or else the Law may be taken in a more large way for the administration of it by Moses, in all the particulars of it; and thus Christ was intended directly, and not by accident; that is, God when He gave the Law to the people of Israel, did intend that the sense of their impossibility to keep it, and infinite danger accruing thereby to them, should make them desire and seek out for Christ; which the Jews generally not understanding, or neglecting, did thereby, like Adam, go to make fig leaves for their covering of their nakedness, their empty, external obedience.” (p266). And speaking of the Galatians, Strong says: “They seeing a covenant made with Abraham, and a promise of free grace and of righteousness, and life without works, an inheritance by promise; and 430 years after a Law given requiring works, and promising life upon perfect obedience thereof, they did not know how to conceive, but that either God did repent of and revoke his former covenant, or else they must be both joined together in the matter of justification and life. Now to answer this the Apostle acquaints them with the end why God did give the Law: it was not to set it up as a Covenant alone, that any man should attain righteousness and life thereby. . .neither was it published to make void the Covenant of Grace, but it was added, not by way of opposition but subordination, that it might be as Hagar to Sarah; a handmaid to further the ends of the gospel, and to advance the grace of it, that it might be as the avenger of blood to the city of refuge, and make men look for the Law in the Ark, Christ, who is the end of the Law for justification. . .[But] This men being ignorant of, they look upon the Law as a Covenant of Works, and all that they do in obedience thereunto is to gain righteousness and life.” (p29). Turretin says: “A twofold relation ought always to obtain [be considered]: the one legal, more severe, through which by a new promulgation of the law and of the Covenant of Works, with an intolerable yoke of ceremonies, he wished to set forth what men owed and what was to be expected by them on account of duty unperformed. In this respect, the law is called the letter that kills (2 Cor.3:6) and the handwriting which was contrary to us (Col.2:14), because by it men professed themselves guilty and children of death, the declaration being written by their own blood in circumcision and by the blood of victims. The other relation was evangelical, sweeter, inasmuch as 'the law was a schoolmaster unto Christ' (Gal.3:24) and contained 'the shadow of things to come' (Heb.10:1), whose body and express image is in Christ. . .According to that twofold relation, the administration can be viewed either as to the external economy of legal teaching or as to the internal truth of the gospel promise lying under it. . .eternal life [was set forth] according to the clause, 'Do this and live.' On the part of the people, it was a stipulation of obedience to the whole law or righteousness both perfect (Deut.27:26; Gal.3:10) and personal and justification by it (Rom.2:13). But this stipulation in the Israelite covenant was only accidental, since it was added only in order that man by its weakness might be led to reject his own righteousness and to embrace another's, latent [hidden] under the law.” (p227).
22 See footnote above. Ball says: “the condition of obedience, which God requires and man promises, is the chief thing urged in the Law; but free and gracious pardon, wherein consists the happiness of the Saints is therein promised and proclaimed. They under the Old Testament lightly following the letter, mistook the meaning, not looking to the end of that which was to be abolished, whereunto Moses had an eye under the veil. For they perceived not so well the grace intended by the legal Testament, which the perfection of the Moral Law, whereof they could not but fail, should have forced them to seek, and the imperfection of the typical Law, which made nothing perfect, should have led them to find, but they generally rested in the work done, as was commanded by either Law, when as themselves were unable to do the one, and the other was in itself as insufficient to help them.” (Ball, p106). And Dabney says: “[The Apostles] were arguing, for the gospel plan, against self-righteous Jews, who had perversely cast away the gospel significance out of the Mosaic institutions to which they clung, and who retained only the condemning features of those institutions; vainly hoping to make a righteousness out of compliance with a law, whose very intent was to remind men that they could make no righteousness for themselves.” (Dabney, p458).
23 We've noted earlier that some actually seem to deny that the Law contains the requirement of perfect obedience as the cause of eternal life and curses all who fall short (see end of last footnote under #3: Perfect Obedience in the Law). I would guess that many who would hold this view do so because they believe the Mosaic Covenant was indeed part of the Covenant of Grace, and they think that to concede that perfect obedience is demanded in the Law is to weaken the argument that Sinai belongs to the Covenant of Grace. I hope we've demonstrated above that this is emphatically not the case. The Puritans often speak of the Jews misunderstanding God's Law in the context of speaking of the Law in its strict sense. But when they do so, they are not saying that the Jews were mistaken to take the Law in its strict sense—but rather that they were mistaken in failing to also take the Law in its larger sense. The Jews' mistake was not adding to the Law (the strict sense), but rather in taking away from it (cutting Christ out of the Law's larger sense). Their mistake didn't have to do with the Law's demands—but rather with the Law's design; not with what the Law required, but why it required what it did. Their mistake was never wrongly imposing upon the Law the demand of perfect obedience—but rather misunderstanding why the Law demanded what it did.
24 See Romans 3:19-20; 5:20; 7:7; 2 Corinthians 3:5-7; Galatians 3:19, 21-22; and John 1:17. On 2 Corinthians 3:5-7, Calvin says: “The law was engraven on stones, and hence it was a literal doctrine. This defect of the law required to be corrected by the gospel. . .From this, too, it follows, that the law was the ministry of condemnation and of death; for when men are instructed as to their duty, and hear it declared, that all who do not render satisfaction to the justice of God are cursed, (Deuteronomy 27:26), they are convicted, as under sentence of sin and death. From the law, therefore, they derive nothing but a condemnation of this nature, because God there demands what is due to him, and at the same time confers no power to perform it. The gospel, on the other hand, by which men are regenerated, and are reconciled to God, through the free remission of their sins, is the ministry of righteousness, and, consequently, of life also. . .the office of the law is to show us the disease, in such a way as to show us, at the same time, no hope of cure: the office of the gospel is, to bring a remedy to those that were past hope. For as the law leaves man to himself, it condemns him, of necessity, to death; while the gospel, b