One of the major threads of theology in the Reformed tradition is the covenant of works. The Westminster Standards define and discuss the covenant of works, and the leading Reformed theologians in the past have spent quite a bit of time discussing it as well. One example is Thomas Boston, who wrote a treatise called A View of the Covenant of Works from the Sacred Records (“Sacred Records” means “Holy Scripture”). The rest of the descriptive (!) title is as follows:
“The parties in that covenant, the making of it, its parts, conditionary and promissory, and minatory [threatening]; our father Adam’s breaking of it; the imputation of that breach to his posterity; and the state of man under that broken covenant, and under the course thereof, are distinctly considered: together with a particular application of the subject, for the conviction both of saints and sinners.”
Here are the main parts of the book: 1) Of the truth and nature of the covenant of works, 2) Of the breach of the covenant of works, 3) Of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, and 4) The condition of men when under the broken covenant of works; and their dreadful state under the curse.
Since this is a detailed book, I don’t have the space (or time!) to summarize it here. I basically wanted to point it out to our readers. I’ll end with a paragraph from Boston’s helpful introduction and with the conclusion from his first section:
My design is, under the divine conduct, to open up unto you the two covenants of works and grace; and that because in the knowledge and right application of them the work of our salvation lies; the first covenant shewing us our lost state, and the second holding forth the remedy in Jesus Christ; the two things which, for the salvation of souls, I have always thought it necessary chiefly to inculcate. And I think it the more necessary to treat of these subjects, that, in these our declining days, the nature of both these covenants is so much perverted by some, and still like to be more so.
After discussing the nature and truth of the covenant of works from the relevant texts in Genesis, Boston concludes the first section like this:
Now it is true, we have not here the word covenant; yet we must not hence infer, that there is no covenant in this passage, more than we may deny the doctrine of the Trinity and sacraments, because those words do not occur where these things are treated of in scripture, nay, are not to be found in the scripture at all. But as in those cases, so here we have the thing; for the making over of a benefit to one, upon a condition, with a penalty, gone into by the party it is proposed to, is a covenant, a proper covenant, call it as you will.
You’ll have to get the book to read more of this helpful discussion of the covenant of works – a doctrine which is a major part of Reformed theology.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)