[K:JNWTS 27/1 (2012): 10-36]
VanDrunen’s article, like his thesis, is very vague. One wonders if it is simply smoke and mirrors. He argues that there is an analogy between Adam and Israel in Paul. So what! There are others who do not follow the Klinean paradigm who believe that too, insofar as both Adam and Israel were under the law. The point is not “Is there an analogy between Adam and Israel in Paul’s writings?”, but “How does one account for that analogy?” “What paradigm best explains the analogy?” VanDrunen acts as if proving the analogy proves the Klinean paradigm for explaining it. But that is far from self-evident. Many in the Reformed tradition have given other paradigms for explaining this analogy. The question, as in any science, is “What paradigm best explains all the data?” There is no logical argument in which the analogy between Adam and Israel in Paul necessitates the Klinean view that the old covenant was a meritorious recapitulation of the Adamic covenant. If VanDrunen thinks there is, he must make his case. On the other hand, we believe that this assumed Klinean conclusion is in direct contradiction to all the arguments (from Scripture) that prove that the Mosaic covenant was essentially a covenant of grace, suggesting that no part of it was essentially meritorious. Anyone who presents a paradigm for explaining the analogy between Adam and Israel in Paul must have a paradigm that coherently explains the fact that the Mosaic covenant was essentially in toto a covenant of grace. Their paradigm must explain all the facts. VanDrunen does not wrestle with these issues. At best, his fellow Klineans argue that the Mosaic covenant was both a covenant of grace and a meritorious works covenant. In our view, this does not present a coherent paradigm because a covenant that is essentially gracious cannot administer a meritorious works paradigm that is essentially meritorious and therefore not gracious. The Reformed tradition has agreed, presenting alternative paradigms that concur in this, i.e., that Israel’s retention of land blessings was essentially by grace, not by merit.
The state of the question is not “is there an analogy between Adam and Israel in Paul” but “what paradigm best accounts for that analogy and simultaneously does justice to all the other facts of Scripture, especially to the essentially gracious character of the Mosaic covenant?”
When we hear someone standing in front of the camera and saying that they are for peace, change, or prosperity, how can we disagree? The media adds that these are great goals and our candidate stands for them. If we object to this person’s vision, we are asked, “Are you against peace?” “Are you for stagnation?” or “Are you opposed to economic recovery?” We, sometimes shyly, say, “No, I just think it makes a big difference what view of peace you mean; in fact, it may mean the difference between life and death.”
So it is when we are continually subjected to Dr. VanDrunen’s thesis that the “the covenant of works is in some sense republished in the Mosaic covenant at Sinai” (emphasis mine). It is so vague. It could mean so many things that it is practically meaningless. Except that when you get behind the rhetoric, you find it includes views that are not acceptable. Indeed, we find that “republication” is given a pregnant sense—that Israel’s actual obedience to the law is in some measure the fulfilling of the covenant of works, even though those in Israel ultimately break this covenant and are thereby called to see their need for Christ.
John Murray was not suggesting that historic covenant theology argued for this pregnant sense of republication when he stated: “The view that in the Mosaic covenant there was a repetition of the so-called covenant of works, current among covenant theologians, is a grave misconception...” However, when VanDrunen and his colleagues refer to Murray’s denunciation, we are left with the impression that Murray is acknowledging that the Klinean view of meritorious “republication” was among the views previously embraced by Reformed theology. But this is not the case.
Dr. VanDrunen’s recent article continues with this implied thesis, though vaguely stated, assuring his readers that he is not arguing for anything dangerous. For Paul even teaches that there is an analogy between being under the law and being under the covenant of works. But here we find Dr. VanDrunen much like the world leader who says that he wants world peace and then to prove his unique strategy for achieving it goes on to argue nothing more than the simple truth—that it is better to have world peace than another world war. Since we all want peace, we must agree with our leader’s unique policies. So VanDrunen thinks that just because he proves that for Paul there is some analogy between Israel under the law and Adam in the garden he has proven that all the (in some sense) views expressed in The Law is Not of Faith (hereafter LNF) are acceptable. But we believe this is no less an obfuscation than we find in the platitudes of many world leaders and the modern media that supports them.
In our view, just because Paul sees an analogy between being under the law and being under the covenant of works, this does not mean that all the ways that LNF interprets this analogy are acceptable. Instead, Dr. VanDrunen must argue why his conception of this analogy is proven by Paul just as much as our world leader must argue why his particular policies are best suited for world peace.
In this article, we will argue that VanDrunen’s particular conception of this view implicitly claims that Israel in some measure kept the covenant of works, though she failed to keep it perfectly and therefore (ironically) did not keep it. This is because Dr. VanDrunen defends the views expressed in LNF, including his own, which articulate this position. This becomes all the more apparent when we consider these views in light of the teachings of Dr. Meredith G. Kline.
We will argue, in opposition to Kline and VanDrunen, that insofar as the Mosaic covenant actually administered blessings to Israel, God gave them to her by sanctifying grace, viewed through the lens of Christ’s imputed righteousness. The unique legal way in which God administered this grace to Israel was therefore simply a reminder of the covenant of works, not a republication of the covenant of works. In this way, while Paul expounds the Mosaic covenant, he simultaneously reminds the church of the covenant of works given to Adam. But it is the covenant of works given to Adam that is in absolute contrast to the new covenant. It is not some operative principle of works administered in the Mosaic covenant itself that is in absolute contrast to the new covenant.
We also acknowledge that VanDrunen and his colleagues seek to argue that the grace of Christ is behind the arrangement by which Israel merited her blessings in the land. However, we believe that they (together with Kline) express this so ambiguously that they have left themselves in the position of defending a congruent view of Israel’s merit with respect to earthly benefits. That is, ostensibly in the same way that Rome conceives of merit for eternal life, VanDrunen conceives of merit for Israel’s temporal life. At least, this is a view that he implicitly defends by defending LNF.
In this article, we will first elaborate our thesis regarding Dr. VanDrunen’s view and the contrary position of the apostle Paul. Then we will indicate how our interpretation of Dr. VanDrunen and his colleagues is supported by an evaluation of Dr. Meredith G. Kline. We hope to show in the course of this article that VanDrunen implicitly follows the views of Dr. Kline. Kline argued that there were two opposing principles in the Mosaic covenant, one of works and another of grace. The important point to note here is that the principle of works was not simply a hypothetical promise given to Israel that if she would obey the law perfectly she would have eternal life (Dr. Kline does not seem to express this view). That suggests only a hypothetical promise that is inoperative for sinful Israel since no sinner is morally able to keep it. Instead, Dr. Kline argued that there was a principle of works in the Mosaic covenant that was actually operative in the life of Israel. That is, God gave Israel a covenant of works in which imperfect obedience could merit temporal rewards. These were rewarded to Israel based on pure merit, the exact opposite of pure grace. This is true even though God gave Israel the grace to obey the law. As a result, God actually dispensed blessings to Israel according to two completely opposite principles, one of pure grace and the other of meritorious works. Thus, for Kline, God did not merely offer Israel blessings based on these two opposing principles, he actually gave Israel blessings according to both grace and merit in the course of history.
Finally, after considering Kline and his connection to VanDrunen, we will look at Romans 7, to which VanDrunen appeals in his most recent article. And we will evaluate whether that text does indeed defend the Klinean conception of republication which VanDrunen advocates. We will argue that it does not.
In essence, we will argue that the Mosaic covenant (insofar as it promised Israel blessings and curses in the land) is simply a reminder of the covenant of works. It is not a republication of the covenant of works. That is, these rewards and curses do not come to the elect in Israel as a fulfilling or failure of the covenant of works. Instead, these blessings and curses come to them insofar as they live by the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of grace. Therefore, the “curses” are not essentially curses for the saints. Rather, they are (in essence) union with Christ in his sufferings. They only formally resemble the curses of the covenant of works. Thus, they are reminders of the covenant of works, but they do not represent its republication.
Dr. VanDrunen may object initially to our framing the question this way since the introduction to LNF claims to distinguish between the essence of the Mosaic covenant and its form. However, we believe that the book does not carry out this distinction and at best gives this “form” its own distinct essential nature. And that essential nature is meritorious. That is, the book implicitly teaches that the Mosaic covenant (as lived by Israel) was essentially a covenant of works. If VanDrunen denies this, we should at least ask him why he (as an editor of LNF) included a chapter from T. David Gordon that explicitly argues that the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant are substantially different in nature. As Gordon states, “…the Sinai covenant itself, as it was delivered by the hand of Moses 430 years after the Abrahamic covenant, was a different covenant, different in kind, characteristically legal, Gentile-excluding, non-justifying because it was characterized by works, and therefore cursing its recipients and bearing children for slavery” (emphasis mine). Again Gordon writes, “And if Paul contrasts these two [covenants, Gal. 4:24] in as many ways as he does, how can we continue to resist the notion that some covenants have at least some substantial differences in kind?” (emphases mine). Finally, Gordon states, “Paul did not (as Murray) perceive all covenants as being essentially alike” (emphases mine). These statements can mean nothing else than that the Mosaic covenant was essentially a covenant of works, at least in some respect.
Thus, whatever Dr. VanDrunen’s own position, by including Gordon’s chapter in the book, he was suggesting that this position is acceptable. This position falls under those that teach that the Mosaic covenant in some sense republishes the covenant of works at Mt. Sinai. In Dr. VanDrunen’s recent article, he does not recant inclusion of this article in the book he co-edited. Thus, we should conclude that when he recently defended his vague thesis, he was defending Gordon’s thesis. Gordon’s thesis is acceptable because Paul taught an analogy between being under the law and being under the covenant of works. This is like saying that my argument for total disarmament is acceptable because the people of our nation voted for peace. It does not matter that the people of our nation voted for peace by means of a strong national self-defense. Thus, it does not matter that Paul argued for an analogy between being under the Adamic covenant of works and being under the Mosaic law as a legal administration of the covenant of grace. Because of this analogy (for VanDrunen), it is acceptable to say (with Gordon) that the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of works and not a covenant of grace, at least insofar as Israel received blessings in the land.
Whatever one makes of my interpretation of Paul above, it is clear that VanDrunen (by accepting Gordon’s chapter) implicitly includes it in his recent defense. Thus, it would not be surprising if we find his own view to be closer to Gordon’s than he cares to admit. And this would also apply to any of the other authors who have not publically rejected Gordon in print.
VanDrunen cannot easily get off the hook by appealing to the form/essence distinction in chapter 3 of LNF. For all those in the previous Reformed tradition who have distinguished between the essence of the Mosaic covenant (gracious) and the form of the Mosaic covenant (legal) have done so for the purpose of refuting the view that the Mosaic covenant was essentially a covenant of works. But Dr. VanDrunen and his colleagues are happy to engage in common cause with someone who teaches that the Mosaic covenant was essentially a covenant of works—namely Gordon. This would seem to indicate that they do not mean the same thing as our Reformed forefathers when they distinguish the covenant’s form from its essence.
To clarify, let us illustrate what we mean by the “essence” and “form” of the Mosaic covenant. This is easiest to illustrate with something that has a different form from its essence. For instance, a statute may have the form of a human being, but it is essentially marble. Most things have the same form as their essence. For instance, a lion looks like a lion. It has the same form as a lion. It does not look like something else. But a statue has the form of something else, like a human being. Still, while it may have the form of a human being, it is essentially marble. But the form of a human which a statue possesses does not make it a human being. No one would argue that since it resembles a human being, it is a human being.
This may help us to understand what the Reformed have meant when they said that the Mosaic covenant was in essence the covenant of grace, but that it had the form of the covenant of works. Like the statue whose essence is marble so the Mosaic covenant is essentially the covenant of grace. But just as the shape of the statue resembles a human being, so the formal shape of the Mosaic covenant resembles the covenant of works. Thus, only in this way does the actual administration of the Mosaic covenant remind us of the covenant of works.
Therefore, despite the claims of the introduction to LNF to defend the form/essence distinction, the book defends Dr. Meredith Kline’s view that the Mosaic covenant actually and essentially administered land blessings to Israel on the ground of meritorious works. Since Dr. Kline defines these works as the opposite of grace, these works are essentially not gracious. Therefore, this represents an administration in the Mosaic covenant that is not simply a form of the covenant of grace, but has its own unique essential nature.
In contrast to LNF, some further considerations may help us see how this form should be viewed so that does not affect the essential character of the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of grace. The form of the Mosaic covenant results from the circumstances of its administration. The formal resemblance of a statue to a human being also results from its unique circumstances. That is, the sculptor has given it certain cuts that are circumstances which determine its shape. The cuts themselves are essentially just cuts in marble, but they combine to resemble the form of a human being. So also, God gave Israel the law that he previously gave to Adam in the garden. This cut (so to speak) is essentially a cut of the covenant of grace. It was given to Israel to live out her new identity in Christ to come. God further tabernacled among them after the giving of the law and brought his tabernacle presence to dwell in the land of promise. God was giving them a land that was a foretaste of heaven by grace through faith cut in the shape of a garden paradise. These cuts were all essentially gracious. But when these circumstances are combined together with the other cuts of this administration (like the combination of cuts in a statue), they formally resemble the situation of the covenant of works.
This essentially gracious character is seen even in the curses of the covenant. When Israel is denied blessings for her disobedience this is essentially the same as two things characteristic of new covenant believers. (1) Insofar as Canaan was a foretaste of heaven, when Israel was denied those blessings this was essentially the same as when a new covenant Christian is now denied further blessings in heaven to the degree that she does not lay up treasures in heaven through faith and obedience to Christ. (2) Insofar as Canaan is a land in this world, as a believing Israelite repents of her sins and trusts in Christ, she suffers the loss of the things of this world in union with him. The essence of the blessings and curses of the Mosaic covenant arise from its essentially gracious nature.
However, this essentially gracious covenant administration reminds us of the covenant of works. For the above elements of its administration are like the cuts in a statue, that when taken together remind us of a human being. Since the land of Canaan reminds us of the Garden of Eden (another earthly land where God was uniquely present), the loss of its blessings reminds us of the curses of the covenant of works. Two elements (that Canaan reminds us of the Garden and their loss through disobedience) combine to formally remind us of the covenant of works. However, in every way they are essentially the covenant of grace.
Some of the contributors to LNF claim that they are making a distinction between the essence and the form of the Mosaic covenant. However, to use our analogy, it seems to us that they are treating the cuts as if they had a different nature than cuts in marble. Instead, their view implies that the formal cuts and shape of the statue are essentially a human being. That is, it seems to us that they are maintaining a contradictory view, namely, that the essence of the statue is marble while the form of the statue really is a human being. It does not simply remind us of a human being. In other words, the Mosaic covenant does not simply remind us of the covenant of works, its covenantal stipulations are a real republication of the covenant of works.
This is to claim that its form has its own unique essential nature, that of the covenant of works. This is the opposite of the traditional Reformed distinction between the essence and form of the Mosaic covenant. For that distinction was used to argue that nothing of the Mosaic covenant (as Israel lived it out) was essentially the covenant of works.
In light of these considerations in LNF, it is reasonable to interpret VanDrunen’s own statements in the book in this light. While he primarily understands the works principle to be the hypothetical promise of eternal life on the ground of perfect obedience, he also finds it “operative” in the actual life of Israel. As he says later in a footnote: “God did not enforce the works principle strictly and in fact taught his OT people something about the connection of obedience and blessing by giving them, at times, temporal reward for relative (imperfect) obedience.” VanDrunen seems to suggest that God relaxed the strictness of the works principle, and as a result he rewarded Israel with temporal blessings for their imperfect obedience. That is, the very nature of this promise/reward arrangement had its direct foundation in the covenant of works, which God simply relaxed at times. As it operated in the life of Israel, it was not essentially a covenant of grace but a covenant of works. This understanding of VanDrunen’s language is given weight by his continual defense of the views of LNF, without qualification. He thereby supports the views of Gordon and Estelle, who clearly teach that the old covenant in one respect had an essentially different nature than the new—namely, its meritorious nature. If VanDrunen objects, claiming that the Mosaic covenant has no other essential nature than that of grace, he fails to articulate how these elements (which republish the covenant of works) are essentially the covenant of grace. This failure is significant in light of the articles in LNF and the history of theology to this point.
The result is that VanDrunen implies the following: to the degree that Israel obeyed the law, she was in some measure fulfilling the covenant of works. This is why we believe he was able to accept Bryan Estelle’s article in which he stated that Israel received her rewards as a result of her merits. Estelle writes, “…obedience plays a somewhat different role under the old covenant…in the old covenant there was the need for compliance so that this would be the meritorious ground for Israel’s continuance in the land…” If according to LNF, Israel receives her rewards as a result of fulfilling the covenant of works in measure, then the merits ascribed to Israel in LNF are merits essentially speaking. This is true however much these authors falsely appeal to the essence/form distinction in their defense. We shall now see how Meredith G. Kline’s own view of the Mosaic covenant reinforces our interpretation of Dr. VanDrunen and his colleagues.
In the following pages, we hope to show that for Meredith G. Kline: (1) the Mosaic covenant, at least in one respect—that by which Israel actually retained her land blessings—was simply a covenant of works. (2) This is reinforced by the fact that Kline continuously argues that this works principle administered by the Mosaic covenant is the absolute opposite of saving grace. (3) Further, Kline indicates his conviction that the Mosaic covenant was purely a works covenant in the way he uses it to prove that the Adamic covenant was purely a works arrangement. He sharply identifies the two with respect to their meritorious nature. (We believe that the Adamic covenant was a works arrangement, the opposite of redeeming grace. However, we do not believe this was the case with the Mosaic covenant.)
Here we are confronted with two different interpretations of Dr. Kline. One suggests that he claimed that the Mosaic economy was gracious, but not the Mosaic covenant. The other suggests that Dr. Kline believed that the Mosaic covenant itself actually administered two entirely different principles, granting salvation by grace alone and rewarding Israel her retention of the land by merit alone. While I held to the first interpretation for a time, I am now inclined toward the second. However, for our purposes it is not necessary to decide one way or another on this issue. On either position, it is clear that Dr. Kline believed that the merit rewarded by the Mosaic covenant was the absolute antithesis of grace. That will be the primary burden of this section. Nonetheless, if Kline believed that the Mosaic covenant administered both eternal salvation by grace alone and temporal blessings by merit alone, then he conceived of a covenant that administered two contrary principles. That creates some interesting observations when we come to Romans 7.
However, since either position above supports our main contention, we will first present some arguments in favor of the view that Kline held that the Mosaic economy alone was gracious, but that the Mosaic covenant was not. Then we will present some material that appears to favor the view that Kline taught that the Mosaic covenant administered two contrary principles.
The arguments presented for the first view will still help us understand Kline’s view of merit, even if it proves that the latter position (that the Mosaic covenant itself administered two contrary principles) is correct. The position in which Kline considers the Mosaic economy as gracious, but not the Mosaic covenant argues as follows: (1) the Mosaic economy is different from the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic economy administers eternal salvation, the Mosaic covenant does not. The Mosaic economy is a broader category encompassing everything given to Israel during its time as a unique nation. During this period, believing Israelites were given the blessings of the eternal life through the Abrahamic covenant. They were also given a covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant, but this covenant did not directly administer eternal salvation to them. It was simply a covenant of works, not a covenant of eternal redemption. Only the Abrahamic covenant directly administered eternal salvation to believing Israel.
However, that period can be called gracious because during the Mosaic era (or economy) the Abrahamic covenant administered eternal salvation to believers. (Thus, Kline calls the Mosaic era gracious, but not out of the conviction that the Mosaic covenant administered eternal salvation.) The following paragraph seems to support this.
The old covenant was law, the opposite of grace-faith, and in the postlapsarian world that meant it would turn out to be an administration of condemnation as a consequence of sinful Israel’s failure to maintain the necessary meritorious obedience (emphases mine).
Here Dr. Kline makes it clear that he believes that the old covenant was a covenant of meritorious works, not a covenant of grace-faith.
The words that precede this may subtly indicate how he distinguishes the Mosaic economy from the Mosaic covenant. But at the very least, they indicate that he believed there was a principle in the Mosaic covenant that was the very opposite of grace, namely meritorious works.
That the Mosaic economy, while an administration of grace on its fundamental level of concern with the eternal salvation of the individual, was at the same time on its temporary, typological kingdom level informed by the principle of works. Thus, for example, the apostle Paul in Romans 10:4ff. and Galatians3:10ff. (cf. Rom 9:32) contrasts the old order of the law with the gospel order of grace and faith, identifying the old covenant as one of bondage,condemnation, and death (cf. 2 Cor 3:6-9; Gal 4:24-26) (emphases mine).
Here Dr. Kline only describes the Mosaic economy as administering eternal salvation, not the old covenant. Instead, he simply describes the old covenant as one of bondage. In the following paragraph, Kline makes the same distinction between the Mosaic economy and the old covenant.
Most familiar of the instances of the introduction of a works principle in a premessianic redemptive economy is the Mosaic Covenant. According to the emphatically and repeatedly stated terms of this old covenant of the law, the Lord made Israel’s continuing manifestation of cultic fidelity to him the ground of their continuing tenure in Canaan. This was not then one of the covenants of grant; it was not a matter of Israel’s being given the kingdom originally in recognition of past meritorious conduct.
Thus, the redemptive economy is gracious, but not the old covenant. It was simply one of those things administered during the Mosaic economy and it was only a covenant of law.
As we can see, Dr. Kline states that the old covenant “was not then one of the covenants of grant”. This is significant. By making this statement, he puts it in the same category of covenants as the covenant of works. This does not mean that all covenants of grant arise (for Dr. Kline) from the merit of Christ. No, he taught that Noah and other luminaries were granted blessings as the reward for their works. However, covenants of grant granted them favors for obedience already performed. On the other hand, non-grant covenants only promise blessings to people if they perform works in the future. Our point will be that covenants of grant (as Kline views them) might be covenants of grace (when something is bestowed based on the previous work of another), but non-grant covenants cannot be. Non-grant covenants must be covenants of works.
For further clarity on this point, let us look to Dr. Kline for his understanding of covenants of grant.
The Genesis 6:18 covenant with Noah might be identified more precisely as a covenant of grant. That is the kind of covenant that ancient rulers gave to meritorious individuals for faithful service to the crown. Such grants had the character of a royal charter or prebend. They might guarantee to the grantee his special status, or bestow on him title over cities or lands with their revenues, or grant to territory under his authority exemptions from customary obligations. In our introductory comments on the Creator’s Covenant of Works with Adam we suggested that that covenant was comparable to the proposal of a grant in which a great king offered to give favored treatment to a lesser ruler on the condition of his assuming and performing the obligations of loyal service as a covenant vassal. Although Adam was created with the status of covenant servant, he was under a probation which proposed a special eschatological grant for covenant-keeping. Noah, unlike Adam, is viewed as a covenant servant who has already demonstrated his fidelity. He therefore receives not just the proposal of a grant but the actual reward, which the Lord was in fact in the process of bestowing in making this covenantal disclosure with its directives concerning the ark, the means of salvation and kingdom realization (emphases mine).
If Dr. Kline denies that the old covenant was a covenant of grant, he places it in the same category as the covenant of works. The old covenant itself only proposes a grant; it does not actually grant Israel blessings. This further implies that it is only a covenant of works.
Even if we end up taking the view that Dr. Kline believed that the Mosaic covenant administers both saving grace and merit, his claim that the Mosaic covenant is not a covenant of grant tells us how he conceived the Mosaic covenant insofar as it administered rewards for merit. Those rewards did not flow from the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of grace, for in this respect the Mosaic covenant was not a covenant of grant.
Again, our point here is not that all covenants of grant (in Kline’s view) are covenants of grace as the Reformed tradition understands it. For Kline, Noah is granted blessings based on his own past obedience. However, when we find the covenant of grace, it is a covenant of grant—granting eternal life to God’s people on the ground of Christ’s redemptive work. As Kline states, “It is a covenant of grace in distinction from works inasmuch as it bestows the grant of the kingdom of God on those who have forfeited their right to God’s favor and so lost their hope of glory.” Thus, if a covenant is not a covenant of grant—and the old covenant is not—it is not a covenant of grace.
In defense of the view that the Mosaic economy alone was gracious, Dr. Kline makes no clear qualification to his claim that the Mosaic covenant was not a covenant of grant. Some may claim that his words “it was not a matter of Israel’s being given the kingdom originally in recognition of past meritorious conduct” are a qualification, meaning that he is only talking here about how Israel receives the land, not about eternal salvation (which he also believed was administered by the Mosaic covenant). However, there is reason to believe that these words are only an explanation. Here Kline is explaining why he does not view the old covenant as one of grant. The reason is that the old covenant only administers earthly blessings to Israel and these are conditioned on their works.
Others might claim that the words that follow the ones we have quoted are more clearly a qualification. We quote them here with those already quoted (for the sake of context).
Most familiar of the instances of the introduction of a works principle in a premessianic redemptive economy is the Mosaic Covenant. According to the emphatically and repeatedly stated terms of this old covenant of the law, the Lord made Israel’s continuing manifestation of cultic fidelity to him the ground of their continuing tenure in Canaan. This was not then one of the covenants of grant; it was not a matter of Israel’s being given the kingdom originally in recognition of past meritorious conduct. But this case of the old covenant is relevant in the present context as another notable example of the pattern which finds the principles of works and grace operating simultaneously, yet without conflict, because the works principle is confined to a separate typological level. Paul, perceiving the works principle in the Mosaic law economy, was able to insist that this did not entail an abrogation of the promises of grace given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob centuries earlier (Gal 3:17), precisely because the works principle applied only to the typological kingdom in Canaan and not to the inheritance of the eternal kingdom-city promised to Abraham as a gift of grace and at last to be received by Abraham and all his seed, Jew and Gentile, through faith in Christ Jesus (emphases mine).
Do the words “which finds the principles of works and grace operating simultaneously” suggest that the old covenant administered both the contradictory principles of works and of grace? Is Dr. Kline here asserting that the Mosaic covenant administered eternal salvation by grace as well as meritorious rewards? It is possible to read the passage in such a way as to avoid this conclusion. On this reading, Kline is simply asserting that the old covenant (as a covenant of works) is an example of the operation of a works covenant alongside a gracious administration of eternal salvation. The old covenant of works does not make ineffectual the administration of eternal salvation through the Abrahamic covenant because it was not promoting works as a means of eternal salvation. It was only promoting works as a means of temporal blessings. Nonetheless, it did not administer that eternal salvation itself, only the Abrahamic covenant did this. These both operated simultaneously during the Mosaic economy. On this reading, the point of the paragraph is that works and grace can operate alongside one another in the Mosaic economy, not that they both operate within the old covenant.
This is how one might interpret the crucial sentence “this case of the old covenant is relevant in the present context as another notable example of the pattern which finds the principles of works and grace operating simultaneously, yet without conflict…” (emphases ours). It is not the old covenant itself (alone) which is the “pattern” in which we find the principles of works and grace operating simultaneously. It is “this case of the old covenant”, the case in which it operates simultaneously alongside the Abrahamic covenant. It is this case, the case in which the old covenant operates beside the Abrahamic covenant in the Mosaic economy, which is the pattern which finds the principles of works and grace operating simultaneously.
Once again, on this reading, it is the Mosaic economy, not the old covenant that administers eternal salvation (for Kline). There may be no indication here that works and grace operate simultaneously within the old covenant itself. They only operate in the Mosaic economy.
This understanding of Kline fits well with everything else we have seen from him, in which he argues that the old covenant was a covenant of works, in antithesis to faith-grace-promise. At the same time, the view that the Mosaic covenant itself administered two completely contrary principles also fits with what we have seen in Kline. For this view can also do justice to Kline’s belief that the Mosaic covenant was purely meritorious. We simply have to qualify that and say that it was purely meritorious insofar as it administered earthly blessings to Israel. Again, this is Kline’s view, not our own.
Thus, on this understanding of Kline, the definition of merit, the opposite of grace, is still applied with full force to the way that Israel retains her land blessings.
In support of the view that the Mosaic covenant itself presented two contrary principles, the following paragraph may be adduced.
The new covenant is not a renewal of an older covenant in the sense of confirming the continuing validity of the old. If we speak of the new covenant as a renewal of the old it must be to express their continuity as two administrations of the Covenant of Grace or, more specifically, the continuity of the new covenant with the underlying, foundational stratum of the old covenant, the substratum of gospel-grace as the way to the ultimate heavenly hope in Christ. But with respect to the old covenant as a typological realization of the promised kingdom realm, the new covenant does not confirm the continuing validity of the old but rather announces its obsolescence and end.
On the surface of things, this paragraph appears to teach that both the old and new covenants are “two administrations of the Covenant of Grace”. As such one gets the impression that “the underlying, foundational stratum of the old covenant” is a stratum within the old covenant itself. If so, it is the old covenant itself which administers “gospel-grace as the way to the ultimate heavenly hope in Christ”. It may be objected by those who hold to the sharp distinction between Mosaic economy and Mosaic covenant in Kline that he is only speaking here of “the underlying, foundational stratum of the old covenant” (emphasis mine), not something in the old covenant itself, but only something else foundational to it, namely the Abrahamic covenant. And this may be the case.
However, when we interpret this paragraph together with another one in Kline, we get a different impression.
By its identification with the gospel of Jesus Christ the Abrahamic Covenant is seen to be a promissory anticipation of the new covenant. It is a subadministration of the overarching Covenant of Grace, which as a whole is mediated by the Son as the one who faithfully fulfills the eternal intratrinitarian covenant, the foundation of all redemptive covenants. God’s saving grace in and through Christ Jesus is thus the underlying explanation of the redemptive blessings provided through the covenant of promise to Abraham in both its old and new covenant stages of fulfillment. (We shall, however, be observing that the suretyship of Christ does not relate to the typological level of blessings under the old covenant in the way it does to the ultimate soteric realities in view in all administrations of the Covenant of Grace.)
In this paragraph, Kline states that the ultimate soteric realities are in view in “all administrations of the Covenant of Grace”. We might ask, “Is the Mosaic Covenant an administration of the covenant of grace?” And the answer would come back to us from the previous paragraph (using the exact same language) that both the old and the new are “two administrations of the Covenant of Grace”.
If we take this into consideration while reading the paragraph immediately above, we are left with the following reading: the old covenant, like the Abrahamic, is one subadministration of the covenant of grace. It is mediated by the Son insofar as it is a covenant of saving grace. The Abrahamic covenant has two stages of fulfillment—one in the typological blessings of the old covenant and one in the new covenant. However, the old covenant is not restricted to the typological level because it also contains another level in which it administers eternal salvation to the elect since it is an administration of the covenant of grace.
This does not mean that Kline now holds to a traditional Reformed view of the Mosaic covenant. Instead, as we have seen above, he believes there is a meritorious works principle operative in the old covenant that is the opposite of grace. That is, on this construction, he believes that the Mosaic covenant actually administers two contrary principles.
This appears to be indicated by the following paragraph.
At the same time, Paul affirmed that the Mosaic Covenant did not annul the promise arrangement given earlier to Abraham (Gal 3:17). The explanation for this is that the old covenant order was composed of two strata and the works principle enunciated in Leviticus 18:5, and elsewhere in the law, applied only to one of these, a secondary stratum. There was a foundational stratum having to do with the personal attainment of the eternal kingdom of salvation and this underlying stratum, continuous with all preceding and succeeding administrations of the Lord’s Covenant of Grace with the church, was informed by the principle of grace (cf., e.g., Rom 4:16). Because the Abrahamic covenant of promise found continuity in the Mosaic order at this underlying level, it was not abrogated by the latter. The works principle in the Mosaic order was confined to the typological sphere of the provisional earthly kingdom which was superimposed as a secondary overlay on the foundational stratum.
Here Kline speaks of the old covenant order, not simply the Mosaic economy. While this still contains some ambiguity, we get the impression that it refers to the old covenant itself, not simply a broader order associated with it. Thus, the old covenant is composed of two strata: the primary level which administers redeeming grace and a secondary level which administered land blessings as a result of Israel’s merits. It was the primary aspect of the Mosaic covenant that was “continuous with all preceding and succeeding administrations of the Lord’s Covenant of Grace”. The association of the Mosaic covenant with the covenant of grace (found in the previous chapter) confirms this interpretation.
After indicating that a strata of the Mosaic covenant administered salvation, he further indicates this with the words “the Abrahamic covenant of promise found continuity in the Mosaic order at this underlying level”. If the Mosaic covenant itself did not administer salvation at some level then the Abrahamic covenant would not have something with which to find continuity. It would simply continue to exist during this period. However, if the Mosaic covenant at some level administered saving grace then there was something in that covenantal order which had continuity with the Abrahamic covenant.
As a result of these considerations, I presently find it more probable (though not irrefutable) that Kline believed that the Mosaic covenant itself administered eternal salvation. At the same time, he most certainly believed that the Mosaic covenant actually administered earthly benefits to Israel as a result of her merits. These two principles were contraries. They were opposite principles at work in the life of Israel. This is true on the construction in which only the Abrahamic covenant administered eternal salvation. But it is also true on the construction in which the Mosaic covenant (as Kline sees it) administers two contrary principles.
Our claim will be that this Klinean construction actually presents two contradictory principles when they are packaged in one covenant. If they were both operative in the same covenant (which seems to be the view of Kline and many of the authors of LNF), then we have a dialectical covenant that contained contradictions.
If it turns out that we should take Kline’s claim that the Mosaic covenant is not a covenant of grant as a claim about the nature of that covenant in toto, we are still left with the conclusion that Israel’s merits (on Kline’s view) were not grounded in justifying grace. They were truly merit, the opposite of grace. And Israel was still under two contrary principles, one administered by the Abrahamic covenant and one administered by the Mosaic covenant. However, since I have suggested that both of these principles (for Kline) are administered through the same covenant, I will assume that this is his construction as I continue my remarks.
We will now reinforce this impression (of Kline’s absolute antithesis between grace and merit) by indicating Kline’s view that the merit of the Adamic covenant of works had essentially the same nature as the “merit” of the Mosaic covenant.
Next we notice how Dr. Kline compares the Mosaic covenant (as a covenant of works) to the Adamic covenant (as a covenant of works).
[T]he identification of God’s old covenant with Israel as one of works points to the works nature of the creational covenant… the significant point is that the old covenant with Israel, though it was something more, was also a re-enactment (with necessary adjustments) of mankind’s primal probation—and fall…the covenant with the first Adam, like the typological Israelite reenactment of it, would have been a covenant of law in the sense of works, the antithesis of the grace-promise-faith principle (emphases mine).
Again, Kline asserts that the old covenant was a covenant of “works, the antithesis of grace-promise-faith”.
The point to observe here is that Kline does not simply see in the Mosaic covenant a reminder of the covenant of works. He asserts that the old covenant as a covenant was itself a covenant of works. He sees a one-to-one correspondence between the Mosaic covenant and the Adamic covenant with respect to their nature. He can thus use no stronger language to describe the Adamic covenant than he has already used to describe the old covenant. Both are covenants of “works, the antithesis of grace-promise-faith”.
Kline’s point here is not simply that Abraham is guaranteed his eschatological reward in a way that Israel is not guaranteed her retention of the land. If this were his only point, we would agree—at least insofar as Israel received these blessings in a provisional form in the land. However, it is the way that Kline justifies this truth that is troubling. He justifies it by seeing a one-to-one correspondence between the nature of Adam’s merit and the nature of Israel’s merit—at least insofar as they are merit. Yes, he acknowledges differences between the two, at least insofar as Adam is promised eternal life and Israel is only promised the retention of the land. And he would acknowledge that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of believing Israelites. However, when it comes to the fundamental nature of the merit that earns them their rewards, both Adam and Israel receive their rewards as a result of God looking directly to their works and considering them meritorious.
Once again we notice the strict way that Kline identifies the nature of merit in the Mosaic economy.
. . . the Mosaic economy, while an administration of grace on its fundamental level of concern with the eternal salvation of the individual, was at the same time on its temporary, typological kingdom level informed by the principle of works…The old covenant was law, the opposite of grace-faith (emphases mine)
Again, this works principle is the very opposite of grace. Thus, God does not receive the works because of justifying grace. He may work them in the hearts of his people by his Spirit, but he receives them because he judges them to be worthy of his justice. They are meritorious!
For Dr. Kline, the claim that the old covenant contains a works principle that is the opposite of grace is not the claim that the Mosaic covenant presents the hypothetical promise of eternal life for perfect obedience. His claim is that Israel, insofar as she was actually rewarded the retention of her land blessings, was rewarded those blessings on the meritorious grounds of her obedience. These came to her as a result of works, the very opposite of grace.
This is indicated in the same paragraph quoted above. For Kline goes on to say:
The old covenant was law, the opposite of grace-faith, and in the postlapsarian world that meant it would turn out to be an administration of condemnation as a consequence of sinful Israel’s failure to maintain the necessary meritorious obedience. Had the old typological kingdom been secured by sovereign grace in Christ, Israel would not have lost her national election. A satisfactory explanation of Israel’s fall demands works, not grace, as the controlling administrative principle (emphasis mine).
Kline speaks here of “Israel’s failure to maintain the necessary meritorious obedience”. This suggests that Israel did perform meritorious obedience; she just failed to maintain it. This meritorious obedience was “works, not grace”. That is, it was the direct opposite of grace. As a result of this meritorious obedience, Israel possessed the “old typological kingdom”. She simply failed to maintain her meritorious obedience, and therefore she lost the typological kingdom.
This is further indicated by the following quotation: “In the covenant mediated through Moses at Sinai it was arranged that Israel’s enjoyment of the external typological kingdom awaiting them in Canaan should be governed by the principle of law, that is, works, the opposite of the gospel principle of promise.”
Kline has presented two completely opposite principles, each actually administered by the Mosaic covenant. The principle of grace administers eternal life (presumably) and the principle of works administers the continuation of blessings of the land. The principle of works is the exact opposite of grace. Thus, it is not grounded in grace, but in merit. These two principles are in absolute antithesis to one another.
Kline: Merit is Deserved Favor
If anyone should doubt this last point, let us look at the way that Kline defends merit further. Our first claim in this section will be that Dr. Kline believed that people both before and after the fall are capable of meriting blessings from God. Second, for Kline, God gives blessings to people because they deserve to receive them. Third, this is true justice as God defines it. When we read the covenants and find that God rewards obedience with earthly typological blessings, we can assume that the covenant is defining justice. It is telling us what justice is. Thus, any attempt to define justice in terms of God’s eternal nature and then use that as the standard by which to judge whether a covenant is administering justice or grace is unacceptable. At least this is true for Kline when it comes to covenants granting temporal typological blessings. This way of putting the issue may not quite be the language Kline uses to describe his view, but we believe it essentially represents his position.
These three things indicate that (for Kline) Israel after the fall actually merited her blessings according to strict justice. Even if God worked in her heart to produce her obedience, he looked directly to that obedience and judged it to be meritorious. And for Kline, God judged it to be meritorious or non-meritorious according to the only standard of justice there is, namely that particular covenant. For Kline will not accept any other standard of justice (such as God’s nature considered apart from that particular covenant) by which to judge whether something is meritorious or gracious. Thus, for Kline, Israel actually merited blessings from God. This was genuine merit, truly the opposite of grace.
First, the following quote indicates that Kline believed that Israel actually received her blessings in the land by merit.
Since these factors are always present in the religious relationship, they would—if they were valid arguments against the works principle—not only prove the creation covenant was not a covenant of works but negate the possibility of a covenant of works anywhere else. Therefore, the biblical teaching that there actually have been covenants of works shows that these factors do not in fact negate the operation of the works principle nor demonstrate the presence of its opposite, grace; no more so in the creational covenant than they do elsewhere (emphases mine).
Clearly Kline is indicating that there have been covenants of works after the fall (“anywhere else” besides the Adamic covenant). We have already seen this. But what is instructive here is that the type of strict justice we have described above is the very type of merit he believes is found in Israel. This (the second point of our section) is indicated by his discussion of merit. The following quote follows directly after the previous quotation above.
Furthermore, though Adam could not enrich God by adding to his glory, it was nevertheless precisely the purpose of man’s existence to glorify God, which he does when he responds in obedience to the revelation of God’s will. And according to the revelation of covenantal justice, God performs justice and man receives his proper desert when God glorifies the man who glorifies him (emphasis mine).
Man receives his “proper desert” when he merits. This is strict merit if anything ever was. Here Kline is talking about Adam. However, the movement from the previous paragraph to this paragraph (without qualification) suggests that Kline is describing the nature of merit wherever he sees it. That is, when Israel merited blessings in the land, she was receiving her “proper desert”.
Kline further describes this “proper desert” when he says that “God glorifies the man who glorifies him”. This is purely a matter of reciprocal justice, as Kline sees it. And this applies to Israel after the fall no less than to Adam before the fall.
How does Kline justify this? How does he rebuff those who might say, “If man truly merits before God, he has something to boast about?” His answer is as follows:
To be so rewarded is not an occasion for man to glory in himself against God. On the contrary, a doxological glorying in God in recognition of the Creator’s sovereign goodness will become the Lord’s creature-servants. But if our concepts of justice and grace are biblical we will not attribute the promised reward of the creation covenant to divine grace. We will rather regard it as a just recompense to a meritorious servant, for justice requires that man receive the promised good in return for his doing the demanded good (emphases mine).
It is true that Dr. Kline is talking here specifically about Adam. However, as indicated, the last three paragraphs I have quoted are successive. When read together, we see that Kline makes no qualifications when moving from the merit of other “covenants of works” after the fall to the covenant of works before the fall. Thus, when he describes the nature of the merit that is true of the Adamic covenant, he suggests that Israel’s merit had the same nature. Hence, he implies that for Israel “justice requires that man receive the promised good in return for his doing the demanded good”. This is strict justice if there ever was such. It is the actual operation of meritorious works in the administration of the Mosaic covenant. And Israel’s deserts are given her according to the standards of strict justice.
It is true that Kline seems to qualify this in the quotation two paragraphs above with the words “And according to the revelation of covenantal justice, God performs justice and man receives his proper desert when God glorifies the man who glorifies him” (emphases mine). Thus, we might think that Kline is appealing to a distinction between strict justice and covenantal justice. Some Medieval Roman Catholic theologians used this distinction to claim that they were not saying that we are justified by strict merit but only covenantal merit.
However (and here we come to the third point of this section), we will see that Dr. Kline’s appeal to “covenantal justice” is not an appeal to covenantal justice as distinct from the strict justice of God’s nature. Instead, Dr. Kline believes that covenantal justice is all there is. And he ridicules any other conception of justice as abstract justice. Thus, we refer to Kline’s position as strict justice because covenantal justice is the only kind of justice Kline believes exists. Thus, it is the only standard of strictness. As he states below:
The disproportionality view’s failure with respect to the doctrine of divine justice can be traced to its approach to the definition of justice. A proper approach will hold that God is just and his justice is expressed in all his acts; in particular, it is expressed in the covenant he institutes. The terms of the covenant—the stipulated reward for the stipulated service—are a revelation of that justice. As a revelation of God’s justice the terms of the covenant define justice (emphases mine).
Here Kline is rejecting the traditional Reformed view of the covenant of works. According to that view, there is such a disproportionality between God and his creatures that not even his image bearers strictly deserve eternal life as a result of their works. Here the Reformed are trying to do justice to passages like Romans 11:35, “who has first given to him that it might be paid back to him again?” No one has ever given unto God that God should repay him. Reformed writers have seen this as a revelation of God’s nature and relationship to man qua man. However, Kline only thinks the covenant of works (considered alone) is the revelation of God’s justice. Thus, it reveals the justice of that arrangement and nothing else. In other words, Dr. Kline is rejecting the idea that the Scriptures elsewhere (e.g., Rom. 11:35) give us a strict standard of God’s attributes and justice in relationship to man qua man—a relationship that we should consider when considering the covenant of works. For him, only the covenant of works reveals justice. Whatever God says in the covenant (as Dr. Kline understands it) is how we should define justice. As he says next: “Refusing to accept God’s covenant word as the definer of justice, the disproportionality view exalts above God’s word a standard of justice of its own making” (emphases mine).
The “covenant” alone is the “definer of justice”. As a result, whenever Kline finds a connection between obedience and rewards in post-fallen covenants (granting earthly rewards), he is free to call the arrangement “merit”. This is because Kline does not believe that there is a standard of strict justice revealed in Scripture (e.g., Rom. 11:35) that stands outside the various particular covenant administrations and by which they may be judged as strictly meritorious or not. Reformed orthodoxy, by contrast, had another biblical standard of strict justice (e.g., Rom. 11:35) that stood outside the Adamic covenant and by which the Adamic covenant could be judged. By this criterion they concluded that the Mosaic covenant was not strictly meritorious. It was not determined by God’s strict justice even though it revealed his justice. Instead, it was called merit within the covenant arrangement in which the obedience of Adam alone was required without the obedience of a substitute and surety. Kline, by contrast, has no other standard to which the Adamic covenant may be contrasted in order to determine whether it is strictly meritorious. His only standard for determining whether the Adamic covenant is strictly meritorious is the Adamic covenant itself (a circular approach).
This is the way Kline approaches other biblical covenants as well. He contends that some of them (e.g., the covenants of grant to Noah and Abraham and the Mosaic covenant) are meritorious. However, he makes this claim by denying that there is a criterion of strict justice outside each of these covenants by which to judge whether these arrangements are in fact meritorious.
This must be qualified by noting that Kline has some criteria for determining if a covenant is meritorious (mostly if we only find the explicit ratification of the human agents in the transaction). However, once it is determined that a covenant is meritorious by this criterion, then that covenant defines the nature of merit within it. It is reasonable to conclude that each of Kline’s meritorious arrangements (e.g., the covenants of grant to Noah and Abraham and the Mosaic covenant) are just as much meritorious within their own covenants as any other arrangement. And there is apparently no other standard by which to judge one more meritorious than another.
As indicated, Kline then carries this over into other covenant administrations besides the Adamic covenant. If Dr. Kline finds in the Mosaic covenant a works arrangement, we must assume this is the only definition of “merit” that we should consider when considering the definition and nature of merit in that arrangement. We should not consider what the Scripture says elsewhere about the holy nature of God and man’s sinfulness. Of course, Dr. Kline does not explicitly say this, but this is the implication. Yes, he seeks to reconcile this with what the Bible elsewhere says about grace, but, as we will see, this does not qualify his definition of merit as merit. Israel’s blessings are still given her by the only definition of merit there is—the arrangement of do this and (merit) life in the Mosaic covenant. Thus, we may say that Israel strictly merits her blessings, even though God works in her hearts to perform them.
Why do we call this “strict” merit? Because for Dr. Kline, we cannot judge what the covenant says about merit by any other standard (i.e., the nature of God understood apart from that particular covenant). Thus, we cannot affirm that this is anything else but a strict standard of justice. If one has no standard of justice outside the covenant then this is the only standard of justice there is. It is the strictest standard of justice that exists. For Kline there is no standard of justice (outside the covenant) to which to compare the covenant and say that its justice is anything other than a strict standard of justice. That is, if I do not have a straight standard by which to judge something (i.e., the covenant), then the covenant itself becomes the straightest and only standard I have. It defines strict justice.
The point of all of this is that Kline has thus defined merit in the most antithetical way to justifying grace possible. The merit he ascribes to Israel is rewarded to her by strict justice. She really deserves the rewards she continues to retain in the land. She merits them according to the strictest standard of justice available. This further reinforces what Kline says when he states that Israel received her blessings in the land by merit, the opposite of grace. He means that the standard by which God judged Israel’s obedience acceptable was the absolute opposite of justifying grace. This indicates that for Kline, Israel’s merit and justifying grace are essentially different. What’s more, they are essential opposites.
The following passage is sometimes appealed to in support of the view that Kline did not believe that Israel’s “merit” was strict merit. It is true that the passage refers to Kline’s belief that Noah merited his passage in the ark during the flood. However, it is reasonable to conclude (as most do) that Kline believed the explanation he gives here for how to relate grace and works in a meritorious arrangement should also be applied to Israel.
It is, of course, the gospel truth that God’s dealings with Noah found their ultimate explanation in the principle of God’s sovereign grace. This covenantal grant to Noah came under the Covenant of Grace whose administration to fallen men deserving only the curse of the broken creational covenant (and Noah too was one of these fallen sons of Adam) was an act of God’s pure mercy in Christ. Wherever enmity has been reestablished between man and Satan it has been due to sovereign divine initiative (Gen 3:15). There is no reconciliation with the Creator, no renewal of love for him or genuine confession of Yahweh as covenant Lord that is not in the last analysis due to God’s restorative power operating in forgiving grace. What is said in Genesis 6:8 is consistent with that but that is not the point that is being made in this verse. It rather refers to a covenant grant bestowed on Noah as one whose loyal service received God’s approbation (emphases mine).
At first glance, this paragraph seems to be at odds with everything we have seen so far on the nature of merit, as Kline conceives it. However, I will suggest a reading of this paragraph that is consistent with what we have observed to this point.
In this reading, I suggest that Dr. Kline is not saying that the covenant grant itself (considered as a covenant arrangement) is gracious. He is simply saying that only someone who has been forgiven and sanctified by the covenant of grace is able to perform the required stipulations of this works arrangement. However (we might add), the arrangement itself is purely meritorious, as defined by the covenant. And this covenant alone is the definer of justice.
This would account for how God’s grace can be the “ultimate explanation” why Noah received these blessings. He would not have received them apart from his obedience, and this could not come to him except by grace. Thus, in the “last analysis” Noah was granted this blessing “due to God’s restorative power”. The “forgiving grace” (insofar as it served as a backdrop for the grant) was only the means by which Noah was delivered from God’s wrath and received the “restorative power” of a new heart. In its relationship to the grant, this mercy (at best) eliminated the negative effects of the fall and placed Noah in a position similar to pre-fallen Adam—back in the Garden of Eden. It left Noah in a position (like Adam), in which he had not yet attained the positive righteousness needed for his potential reward. Instead, (like pre-fallen Adam) Noah was still capable of meriting that reward and once his works were sufficient, God gave him the grant. Therefore, God’s mercy was not the positive ground of Noah’s grant. When God judged Noah’s obedience worthy of the grant, he did not do so by looking at his own forgiving grace together with the full positive justifying righteousness of Christ. Instead, for Kline (with respect to the grant), God looked directly at Noah’s obedience apart from the positive justifying merits of Christ. That is why Noah’s obedience was meritorious.
In this way, the “covenantal grant to Noah” came “under the Covenant of Grace” (emphasis mine). The covenant of grant was not itself the covenant of grace. It did not give Noah his reward on the ground of his justification. Instead, in the covenant of grant, God looked directly at Noah’s works. Admittedly, these works were done by the Holy Spirit, and thus the covenant of grace formed the backdrop apart from which the covenant of grant would not have had fruition. In this way “the covenantal grant to Noah came under the Covenant of Grace” (emphases mine), but was not itself the covenant of grace.
Thus, it was not the covenant of grant but only the “Covenant of Grace whose administration to fallen men deserving only the curse of the broken creational covenant…was an act of God’s pure mercy in Christ.” The covenant of grace alone was an act of pure mercy in Christ. On the other hand, the covenant of grant rewarded Noah blessings based on his merits.
It is true that Kline’s words “deserving only the curse of the broken creational covenant” might suggest that in this paragraph Kline conceived the mercy of God always present with Noah as the backdrop of God’s acceptance of his works. (The term “act” of God’s mercy may preclude this, but not necessarily.) However, if this is the case, we must interpret this together with Kline’s other statements, to the effect that merit is the opposite of grace. Again, when Kline here appears to hint at the relationship of Noah’s eternal salvation to the grant, he only speaks in terms of how the mercy of God has reversed the negative effects of the fall (“the curse”). He has not asserted that Christ’s positive righteousness is the ground on which Noah’s works are judged acceptable (in terms of the grant).
Is this approach to Kline correct? All would agree that Kline did not believe that God rewarded Noah this grant simply because Noah was a justified person. But for Kline, did God look upon Noah’s sanctification, seen through the lens of Christ’s positive justifying righteousness, and reward it? Was this analogous to the degrees of reward that the saints will receive in heaven based on the degrees of sanctification in this life? If so, he does not elaborate on this point.
The preponderance of his statements on the nature of merit as the opposite of grace seems to lead in another direction (as we have suggested). Considering all that Kline states on the subject, if Kline did intend mercy as the lens through which God judged Noah’s works worthy, this lens of mercy (in its relationship to the grant) fell short of the positive justifying righteousness of Christ. The fact that it falls short of complete imputed righteousness is further supported by Kline’s claim that Noah’s eternal salvation came to him as a result of God’s grace, but he received his typological blessings on the ground of his merits, the opposite of grace. This bifurcation between the two different ways God deals with Noah—grace in terms of eternal salvation versus merit with respect to temporal-typological rewards—is more consistent with Kline’s overall approach than the more alternative synthetic approach considered in the previous paragraph. In this latter (synthetic) approach, the complete imputed righteousness of Christ is the lens through which God viewed Noah’s works for both temporal and eternal rewards. Anyone who adopts the more synthetic interpretation of Kline must account for all that we have found so far in Kline on the nature of merit as the opposite of grace and inherently deserving reward. Further, the bifurcated approach to Noah is supported several pages later in the following words.
Noah’s subsequent obedience to God’s directive to construct the kingdom-house of God in the form of the ark would have been a supplementary extension of the faithfulness that was the ground for his reception of the kingdom grant. As in the other cases we have discussed, we must keep in mind the typological level of the kingdom that was secured by Noah’s righteousness if we are to perceive the consistency of this works-grant with the grace principle that was operating at the permanent, fundamental stratum of the Covenant of Grace. The flood judgment was but a type of the messianic judgment and the kingdom in the ark that was granted to Noah as the reward for his good works was only typological of the messianic kingdom. Therefore, this covenant of grant to Noah was not in conflict with or an abrogation of the grace of the redemptive covenant that had been revealed to the Sethite community of faith and, of course, continued to be operative in the sphere of eternal realities in the days of Noah and his covenant of grant (emphases mine).
Here we find the reason Kline gives for not believing that there is a conflict between grace and merit: it is simply that grace brings eternal rewards while merit brings typological rewards. If the more synthetic interpretation of Kline is to be preferred, this distinction between temporal and eternal should not be a crucial point. For let us assume that Kline simply believed that Noah received his reward by God looking at his good works through the lens of Christ’s justifying grace. This would not differ from the way God rewards saints with greater degrees of heavenly blessings. Then why should it matter whether the rewards are temporal or eternal? There is no problem with God rewarding either looking at our sanctification through the lens of Christ’s righteousness. However, Kline constantly appeals to this distinction between the temporal (typological) and the eternal riches to explain why there is no conflict between “merit” and grace.
This suggests that he does not simply misuse the term merit, as if it referred to God rewarding his saints for their sanctification, seen through the lens of Christ’s righteousness. Instead, Kline views it as merit traditionally understood. And that is why he defines it as merit, the opposite of grace. On Kline’s view, it is inherently worthy of reward. None of this is consistent with the view that God is simply looking upon our sanctification through the lens of Christ’s righteousness.
Kline has presented us with two contrary principles, each administered by the Mosaic covenant. Grace may be necessary to perform “meritorious” duties. Nonetheless, when God looks upon the deeds of Israel, he does so directly—apart from the positive merits of Christ. Only then are Israel’s works truly meritorious, inherently deserving reward, the very opposite of grace.
At best, Kline has constructed a form of congruent merit for temporal rewards parallel to the congruent merit that Rome constructed for eternal rewards. There is clearly a parallel here between Rome’s view of possessing eternal life and Kline’s view of Israel possessing temporal benefits. Let us consider some of those parallels. First, Kline argues that Israel received land blessings by means of a works arrangement. Rome argues that the Church receives eternal life by means of a works arrangement. Second, Kline defends his position as one of grace by arguing that God worked in Israel to produce these works. Rome defends her position as one of grace by arguing that God works in the Church to produce works. Third, Kline might argue that his position is still one of grace for the work of the Holy Spirit in Israel was ultimately grounded in Christ’s death and resurrection. Rome also argues that the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church is grounded in Christ’s death and resurrection. Finally, Kline argues for a form of mercy that falls short of imputed righteousness, for temporal rewards. Rome also argues for a form of mercy that falls short of imputed righteousness, for eternal life.
What then makes Rome’s position meritorious? The fact that she does not argue that the arrangement by which the Church receives eternal life administers justification. What makes Kline’s position meritorious? The fact that he does not argue that the covenant arrangement by which Israel received land blessings administers justification. For Rome, the covenant that promises eternal life does not administer justification. For Kline, the covenant that promises land blessings (the covenant of works) does not administer justification. For Kline, the Mosaic covenant, insofar as it dispenses eternal life, may grant justification. However, insofar as it grants land blessings, it is meritorious—the very opposite of justifying grace.
In this regard, the following section of dialogue from The Marrow of Modern Divinity may be instructive in concluding this section.
Nomist: But stay, sir, I pray; you are mistaken in me; for though I hold that God doth accept of my doing my best to fulfil the law, yet I do not hold with the Papists, that my doings are meritorious; for I believe that God accepts not what I do, either for the work or worker’s sake, but only for Christ’s sake.
Evangel: Yet do you but still go hand in hand with the Papists; for though they do hold that their works are meritorious, yet they say it is by the merit of Christ that they become meritorious; or, as some of the moderate sort of them say, “Our works, sprinkled with the blood of Christ, become meritorious.” But this you are to know, that as the justice of God requires a perfect obedience, so does it require that this perfect obedience be a personal one, viz : it must be the obedience of one person only; the obedience of two must not be put together, to make up a perfect obedience; so that, if you desire to be justified before God, you must either bring to him a perfect righteousness of your own, and wholly renounce Christ; or else you must bring the perfect righteousness of Christ, and wholly renounce your own.
 This is part one of a series in response to David VanDrunen’s article “Israel’s Recapitulation of Adam’s Probation under the Law of Moses,” Westminster Theological Journal 73 (2011): 303-24.
 Meredith G. Kline, as will be explained below.
 Bryan D. Estelle, J. V. Fesko, David VanDrunen, eds., The Law is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009) 6. See also “Israel’s Recapitulation,” 303. “God in some sense republished the Adamic covenant of works through giving the law at Sinai, not as a viable alternative way to eternal life but as a pedagogical tool to advance his broader purposes of salvation by grace through the coming Messiah” (emphasis mine). VanDrunen still leaves open every conceivable view of republication in the Mosaic covenant except those claiming that the Mosaic covenant presented the actual possibility of meriting eternal life.
 John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977) 2: 50.
 LNF, 15-16.
 “Israel’s Recapitulation,” 303-4.
 Of course, this claim is implicit in his article, for (as an editor of LNF) he included all those views in the book and rejects none of them in his recent article.
 LNF, 251.
 Ibid., 253.
 Ibid., 256.
 Ibid., 82.
 In light of these observations, we do not see why VanDrunen’s observation that “Israel’s history mimics Adam’s story” (“Israel’s Recapitulation,” 305) proves his distinctive Klinean view that Israel essentially recapitulates Adam.
 LNF, 284.
 Ibid., 301, n. 30.
 Ibid., 136.
 This interpretation was first suggested to me by the address of Lee Irons on Leviticus at the 2001 Kerux Conference.
 Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue, Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Overland Park, KS: Two Age Press, 2000) 109.
 Ibid., 237.
 Ibid., 234-35.
 Ibid., 145.
 Ibid., 237.
 Ibid., 237.
 Ibid., 345.
 Ibid., 295.
 Ibid., 321.
 Ibid., 110.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 118.
 Ibid., 111.
 Ibid., 236.
 Neither does Kline address this issue in By Oath Consigned when he states: “the demands made by God’s covenant upon the individual…both as stipulations and sanctions are met and satisfied for men in their faith-identification with the Christ of promise” (23). Here he is dealing with how an “individual” sinner receives eternal life during the older economy, not how Israel retained blessings in the land.
 Ibid., 238-39.
 Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, with notes by the Rev. Thomas Boston (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1850) 92-93.