The Covenant of Works and the Westminster Standards

In chapter four of Scripture and Worship Richard Muller examines the relationship between the Westminster Confessions and the Reformed exegetical/interpretive methods of the 16th and 17th century.  I appreciated his section in this chapter on the covenant of works and Reformed exegesis/interpretation.  Here’s his summary of this discussion (I’ve formatted it a bit to make it easier to read on this blog).

“What can we conclude in general about the relationship of the confession to the exegetical tradition in the case of the covenant of works and, from that conclusion, about the early Reformed understanding of the reasons for arguing a covenant of works?”

First, the confession related to the exegetical tradition in much the same way as the early formulators of the two covenant model – the foundation of the doctrine was primarily Pauline, collated to Genesis 2:17.”

Second, beyond the sacramental understanding of the trees in the garden and the biblical datum of a requirement of obedience placed on Adam, the fundamental concept of a prelapsarian covenant of works (or of ‘nature’ or ‘life’) was grounded in the Pauline antitheses of Adam and Christ, law and faith.  In other words, the documents indicate that the interrelated series, Christ, faith, covenant of grace, was juxtaposed with Adam, law, and the covenant of works, with the prelapsarian covenant supplied as the necessary conclusion demanded by the collation of texts.”

“In effect, the confession at this point exemplifies its own statement of the Reformed method of interpretation – that Christian doctrine is to be either grounded upon the express statements of Scripture or drawn from those statements as a ‘good and necessary consequence’ (WCF 1.6).  This had been the way in which the early orthodox reformed theologians had developed their understanding of the prelapsarian covenant on the basis of Genesis 2:17 and various Pauline texts – and it remained the method of the confession and catechisms.”

You’ll have to get the book to see how Muller reaches this summary.  Again, it is found in chapter four of Scripture and Worship: Biblical Interpretation & The Directory for Worship by Richard Muller and Rowland Ward.  This book is basically a in-depth discussion on the doctrine of Scripture and the topic of worship as described in the Westminster Standards.  I recommend it for those of you who, like me, very much appreciate confessional presbyterianism and want to learn more about its background and theology.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

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