RUIN & REDEMPTION

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What did the Mosaic Covenant Require? (Lesson 7.2)



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 a