Saturday, February 27, 2016

A rebuttal to some arguments against the Covenant of Works (Part 2)

[continued from here]

The second argument posed by Nichols and Hoeksema is that no mere man could ever merit any special reward from God (p. 332). This argument however confuses ontological distance with covenantal obligations. Just because Man cannot make God owe him something does not imply that God cannot promise a reward to Man in a covenant He Himself initiates, and set the terms by which man is to obey in order to get the reward. In the Abrahamic Covenant, Abraham could legitimately ask God when He was going to provide a son, not because God owed Abraham anything, but because God has promised Abraham an heir from his own body. Likewise, one can even say that in the Covenant of Grace, believers can expect to be saved from hell, not because God owed us salvation, but because God has told us we are saved by faith in Christ. In all these, what God can be called upon to give has nothing to do with whether God "owes" anyone anything, but rather that God will honor His Word and His promises and thus one can hold God to His own covenantal obligations.

In the Covenant of Works therefore, Adam could hold God to His Word of reward. Adam did not strictly merit anything, but rather by fulfilling the terms of the covenant, Adam would have earned his reward according to the terms of the covenant. It is by "works," in the sense that Adam was tested upon his own strength whether he would or would not be obedient. Nichols' and Hoeksema's objection is therefore without basis here as well.

Nichols' and Hoeksema's third objection is that the "supposed promise of heavenly life is 'inconceivable' without violating the design of creation" (p. 332), and thus the giving of the cultural mandate does not makes sense if the Covenant of Works is true. This is however a strange objection from a Kuyperian. From a Kuyperian perspective, if one's cultural works are relevant for the kingdom of God and thus in the New Creation, doesn't that imply that the cultural mandate continues to be applicable in the new creation, and thus the mandate applies regardless of whether Adam has just been created or whether he has passed the test and has been confirmed in righteousness? From a non-Kuyperian perspective, the new creation includes a new earth which imply that a certain aspect of the cultural mandate, of exercising dominion over the [New] creation, would still be in force. There is therefore no contradiction between the Covenant of Works and the Creation Mandate.

Besides these objections, Nichols bring out the old canard that Adam's relation with God was "familial and filial-parental," and thus not the "cold, distant," "impersonal relationship between 'contracting parties.'" (p. 337). The legal is set against the familial, as if the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. But just because something is familial and relational does not mean it cannot be legal and forensic at the same time. Adoption is a legal process, but it is far from being impersonal and legal! And if one rejects the idea of a legal covenant with Adam, then why does one support the idea of a forensic Covenant of Grace wherein God is being supremely personal in adopting each and every of the the elect as His sons? This objection therefore has less than its weight in straw. Similarly, Nichols attempts to pit the "filial framework" against the idea of a "probation," pitting the familial against the forensic. But the traditional idea of a "probation" is meant to be understood merely as a time of trial to see whether Adam as God's son would obey, not whether there was a test of Adam's "suitability" (p. 344).

In conclusion, Nichols failed to disprove the legitimacy of the Covenant of Works. Rather, we have seen how poor the arguments against the Covenant of Works have been, with terrible arguments like pitting the forensic against the familial that should have no place at all in Reformed circles.

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