Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Charles Hodge and the republication in the Mosaic covenant

Besides this evangelical character which unquestionably belongs to the Mosaic covenant, it is presented in two other aspects in the Word of God. First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic Law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect it was a legal covenant. It said, “Do this and live.” Secondly, it contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works. It is as true now as in the days of Adam, it always has been and always must be true, that rational creatures who perfectly obey the law of God are blessed in the enjoyment of his favour; and that those who sin are subject to his wrath and curse. Our Lord assured the young man who came to Him for instruction that if he kept the commandments he should live. And Paul says (Rom. ii.6) that God will render to every man according to his deeds; tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory, honour, and peace to every man who worketh good. This arises from the relation of intelligent creatures to God. It is in fact nothing but a declaration of the eternal and immutable principles of justice. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:375)


Larry said...

True enough, but I think "Our Lord assured the young man who came to Him for instruction that if he kept the commandments he should live" confuses Lk 10:28 with either the ruler who was not young (Lk 18:21), or the "young man" of Mt 19:20, neither to whom Jesus said that. The Lord's reply "do this, and you will live" is reserved for the Lk 10:28 questioner, who came to Jesus testing him. It baffles me how quickly we skip over some very important words, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good," in Mt 19, which are the very first response to "what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life"? (Mt 19:16-17). As if this were a complete aside, and had nothing to do with the question! It certainly points in a different direction the concept of perfect keeping of the Law.

In fact the Lord's words "if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" are often thought of as setting up a "this for that" system, but that reads into it. First of all, the Lord was curtailing the young man's expectation of "what good thing" -- from doing one good thing, his "this," for the "that" of obtaining eternal life -- quite a feat! He reminded the young man that there were many things that needed to be done, not just one thing. Secondly, there is a curtailing of the young man's idea, that he could "obtain" eternal life, to the concept of doing things "if you wish to enter." This is not a "this for that." Those who wish to enter eternal life actually should obey God. This is not a this for that, but justice.

PuritanReformed said...


the three passages (Mt. 19:16-30; Mk. 10:17-31; Lk. 18:18-30) in the three Synoptic Gospels describe the same event, not three different events. They all describe the one event from three different points of view, so there is every reason to have confidence it is indeed the account of one "rich young ruler."

The first response is a rhetorical question. It is meant to question why he called Jesus "good," and has nothing to do with the answer to the actual question.

And are you saying that the way to enter eternal life is to "actually" obey God? Salvation is by works?

Larry said...

Hodge did not allude singly to that event, to those passages you mention, when he made the comment which I quoted him making from your post: "Our Lord assured the young man who came to Him for instruction that if he kept the commandments he should live." "This do, and thou shalt live" is in a different section, Lk 10:28, not Mt 19 // Mk 10 // Lk 18. They don't have this phrase. Lk 10:28 is not the same event as Lk 18 and parallels.

Whereas in Mark's and Luke's description of that event, the synoptically parallel "rich young ruler" passage, Jesus tells the young man "you know the commandments (Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20)," Matthew reports more: he reports (19:17) that Jesus said "if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." This is in response to the man's question to obtain, or have, eternal life, by a single "good thing" (19:16).

So I wonder whether Hodge conflated from memory, thinking of "this do, and thou shalt live" is the same event as when Jesus said "if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." It wasn't. Hope that clears up my factual question.

Now as to whether I believe that salvation is by works or not, certainly not. There is not a day where I am not fighting, especially lately, the sufficiency of the work of Christ for our salvation. In fact, it is in that motivation that I brought up this important passage in Mt 19, where Jesus, as well as all else he teaches, curtails the man's desire to have, NASB "obtain," eternal life by doing a good thing. There is in the Lord's words "if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" both a rebuke to the question of having eternal life by doing a _single_ act, and a rebuke to the whole concept of doing good _in order to_ obtain eternal life. The man wants eternal life. Jesus is not rebuking the desire of the man to have eternal life. He does rebuke the desire to get it by obtain it by acts of doing good. When the Lord says "if you wish to ..." He is not setting up a "do this, to get that" system for this man. He is placing the doing of good where it should be. It is not wrong to do good. It is not wrong to want eternal life. The man should do good, but not in order to get eternal life! We are to do good, because it's right to, not as if it obtained eternal life. It doesn't obtain eternal life, but it's still right to do good.

PuritanReformed said...


You are mistaken. Hodge is citing the episode of the rich young ruler, and not the lawyer where he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. "Do this and you shall live" is the operating principle of Lev. 18:5, and it perfectly illustrates what Jesus was pressing he rich young ruler on; the presence or absence of the exact phrase is irrelevant.

As for the issue of works, Jesus is not saying what he says as a rebuke. He is stating the truth: those who want to gain eternal life by good works have to be perfect. "Do this and you shall live" - the principle of Lev. 18:5. It is the principle operative in Rom. 2:6-10, the principle of the Covenant of Works. Jesus is using the Law to show the impossibility of the rich young ruler meriting salvation by works, but even though the Law is impossible, keeping it perfectly does merit life.