Moses the Blender

Chapter Two of Waters’ book is on covenant and biblical history. This post will not go on and on, but for two cents, it could.

“What is clear is Wilson’s emphasis upon grace as the hallmark of the first covenant and as the principle that unites the first and second covenants” (p. 31).

This is true enough. I believe that God is a gracious God, and that all His dealings with His children are necessarily gracious. This emphasis is on grace from first to last, grace above and grace below, grace before the fall and grace after, grace to the uttermost and amen, and this is an emphasis that needs a name. Why not neo-legalism?

But the fact that God is gracious if He makes a gracious covenant with unfallen Adam, which Adam broke, and then another gracious covenant with fallen men in the second Adam, which Christ kept, does not mean these two gracious covenants have to be the same thing. If I graciously give ten dollars to Smith, and twenty years later, I graciously give twenty clams to Murphy, does it follow from this that I am somehow trying to flatten the differences between Smith and Murphy? If I graciously rent one house on Elm Street to Smith and then five years later rent one to Smith’s kids on Maple, am I trying to flatten the differences between the houses? I deny it, but what do I know?

Waters quotes me saying that faith is necessary in both covenants (the covenant of life, and the covenant of grace). And this is accurate. I said it. I believe it. “The condition is always to believe God” (p. 32). But then this is the inference Waters draws from this:

“Wilson, therefore places great emphasis upon continuity, not contrast, between the first covenant and subsequent covenants” (p. 32).

Well, if we are talking about the presence of God’s grace and the need for man to respond in faith, I do. But if we are talking about the presence of sin, I don’t. Note that Waters says that I place “great emphasis” on continuity. Why? Because I said the “condition is always to believe God.” But then, just a little bit later, Waters says this:

“No Reformed theologian has denied that Adam was to exercise faith in the covenant of works . . . covenantal blessing would come by obedience to the moral law and to the command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” (p. 43).

So then, Adam was supposed to have been obedient to God’s requirement (which I hold), and he was to have done so by means of exercising faith (as I hold, along with all other Reformed theologians apparently). So what is the beef? If all Reformed theologians hold that Adam had faith in his covenant, and we have faith in this one, how is that not flattening the differences between the covenants. Both have faith in them there. Strong element of continuity!

Waters even acknowledges that I stress the radical distinction between the older covenants and New Covenant. “While Wilson stresses that the movement into the New Covenant was as bold and as radical as a movement from death to resuurection . . .” (p. 33). True enough. I do. And I stress that the covenant with Adam was a distinct covenant from the covenant that God established to secure our salvation. But stress these things as I may, it all avails for naught. Least around these parts. Because this is how Waters summarizes my take on the covenants, and he does this with virtually no argumentation.

“In summary, then, we have a flattening of a confessional understanding of the relationship among the covenants” (p. 33).

He says that I flatten the covenants because I maintain that both of them were exhibitions of the grace of God. But he acknowledges that Adam had to have faith. And he acknowledges that there were aspects of grace in the covenant of works. I simply have one question for Waters. If Adam had withstood the temptation offered by the serpent in the garden, would he have had an obligation to thank God for his deliverance. If he had been delivered from the fall, would God have done it?

One other thing. Waters acknowledges that the Mosaic law was gracious, and not a flat-out recapitulation of the covenant of works. This is something he pretty much has to do, seeing how the Bible describes it that way. But he needs to get a recapitulation in there somehow, probably because of the people he is hanging out with.

“Does this mean, however, that he could not have spoken of the covenant of works surfacing in some sense in the law — to which his opponents looked to establish the grounds of their justification?” (p. 47).

In other words, the covenant of grace is there on the surface, which is what the Westminster Confession says that law of Moses was — an administration of the covenant of grace. But, from time to time, there are sightings of the covenant of works, like the Loch Ness Monster. These sightings enable Paul’s opponents to establish the grounds of their justification on some other basis than grace, because they saw the monster.

Now I ask you. Who is flattening covenants around here? I hold the covenant of life was made with Adam, was contingent on his perfect obedience, and he forfeited the blessings promised in it by his disobedience. Because of that sin, and completely new state of affairs ensued, and God (whose gracious character had not changed) makes a new covenant through which He promises to redeem man from the wreckage he made of the first covenant. One gracious God, two covenants, separated by a definitive moment in time — when Adam took the prohibited fruit. Easy to keep them distinct.

But Waters has the Mosaic covenant, the covenant of grace, just sitting there all placid like, and this covenant of works keeps surfacing in it, scaring and misleading the Pharisees. This is not just a cute debating trick. Waters is the one who has flattened the covenants. The law of Moses, what is it? If he says that in one sense it is the covenant of grace (which the WCF says) and in another sense it is the covenant of works, who is the flattener?

My point, which Waters interacted with and dismissed, was that the law of Moses was the covenant of grace. But the legalistic hearts of the Pharisees insisted upon seeing another kind of covenant in there, a covenant of works. This was an error God anticipated, and typified in the person of Hagar. She was a type of those who would break covenant by seeing the covenant with Moses as being anything but gracious. Waters dismissed this as “subjectivist,” which means that he must hold that the covenant with Moses is simultaneously the covenant of grace in one way and the covenant of works in another, and is both kinds of covenant together objectively, all in one big confusing bundle.

I of course deny that I have flattened these two covenants. But I go further. I assert that Waters himself has gone out of his way to jumble the two covenants all together. And he has done so while accusing others of getting these two covenants mixed up. What would he accuse us of if we affirmed a covenant of works with Adam, but said that the covenant of grace kept mysteriously “surfacing” in it?

Now frankly, I don’t mind that much if Waters and others mysteriously make Moses the blender in which the covenant of grace and covenant of works are pureed. I have more pressing things to get worked up about. But if he does this in the chapter where he is charging us with this very offense, and it is being done in such a way as to propagate a completely unnecessary controversy in the Reformed world, then I have to say that I do mind. And I do.

Leave a Reply

Notify of