Blogging through and answering the questions from G. I. Williamson’s The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes for personal review and comprehension.
WCF. VII. Of God’s Covenant with Man.
1. Why is it proper to speak of the “covenant of works” as a biblical teaching though it is not technically designated as such in Scripture?
It is proper because it is clearly implied in Genesis 2:17, as well as the hypothetical situation raised by Paul in Galatians 3:12, that man in Eden had “the alternative of obedience and life, or disobedience and death” (84).
2. What reasons are given by those who object to speaking of a covenant of works?
It is generally objected for two reasons: first, that it is not formally stated in Scripture (in a syntactical sense), and, second, that this erroneously suggest that the work’s of a man would merit (read: necessitate) the blessings of God.
3. What answers may be given to these arguments?
The first argument is not convincing because a great deal of orthodox Christian belief is not “formally stated in Scripture”, e.g., the doctrine of the Trinity. The second argument is not convincing because the “Confession carefully guards against the very danger that is being warned about” (84); the terminology of the former covenant (covenant of works) is used to distinguish it from the latter covenant (covenant of grace). Both covenants were sovereignly imposed by God, but the conditions in the former were the obedient works of man, but the latter is not a covenant between God and man, it is a covenant between the persons of the Godhead (a covenant between mutual parties, oftentimes called a parity covenant).
4. What merit has this designation (covenant of works)?
As stated above, the obedient works of man were the conditions (means for) the gracious provisions (covenantal promises).
5. What is meant by saying that the covenant was sovereignly imposed?
God consults Himself and nothing else.
6. State the Arminian conception of the condition of the covenant of grace.
The Arminian conception of the condition of the covenant of grace teaches that Jesus died for all men, i.e., “procured their removal from the covenant of works and introduced them into the provisions of the covenant of grace.” In this new arena, salvation is made possible… man can attain eternal life on a “new and easier basis than that of the covenant of works.” Why put it that way? Because, according to the former covenant, God required absolute, perfect obedience, but now God requires an abridged version of obedience–faith, repentance, and evangelical obedience. Like the former covenant, rewards and provisions are conferred upon the basis of man’s works, but only because Jesus has made this a possibility. Note: salvation according to the Arminian conception is not really a gift of a parity covenant of grace between the persons of the Godhead.
7. State the Reformed conception of the condition of the covenant of grace.
The Reformed conception is that all of the conditions of the parity covenant of grace between the persons of the Godhead are fulfilled explicitly and solely by God! Thus, “the life and salvation offered sinners in the Reformed version of the gospel is actual, because it depends upon God alone not only for the end to be attained, but also for the creation of those attitudes and actions in us that are necessary for receiving of that end” (85). The conditions of the covenant of grace are “conditional only in the sense that it depends upon certain effects of the work of the holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s elect,” i.e., regeneration, sanctification, etc.
Note the key difference between the two: the Arminian conception of God’s plan of salvation for man is merely a possibility, while the Reformed conception of God’s plan of salvation for man is an actuality.