I would like to draw us back into the details. Especially with regard to the question of covenant and its relationship to justification. I was glad to see so many of the participants affirm the Confession. I am still a bit confused by Peter Leithart’s formulations.
Douglas Wilson has argued that the Reformed should, according to their own tradition, affirm God’s graciousness to man even before the fall from innocence. He will be pleased to know the RPCNA Testimony declares, “Covenants are God’s gracious instruments for the accomplishment of His purpose that the creation should serve Him (RPC Testimony, Introduction, paragraph 1.” Included here is the Covenant of Works/Life/Nature. The RPCNA Testimony affirms grace before the fall. So does the vast majority of the Reformed tradition. So far so good?
It is important that the graciousness of the Covenant of Works not be misunderstood. The Reformed Orthodox have understood that the use of grace here is nuanced. The pre-redemptive covenant was gracious, not in its consummation, but in its establishment. It was gracious of God to condescend to enter into covenant with His creature. It was gracious for God to transcend the stark eternal boundries of the Creator/creature relationship and seek fellowship with Adam. It was gracious to the race to offer consummation and higher life in response to the commanded obedience of the federal head. Here, at the point of entrance, is grace. Thus, the Reformed have skillfully steered between the Scylla and Charybdis of medievial realism and nominalism.
Against the via antiqua (realism) the Reformed affirmed that the Creator/creature distinction is so ultimate that no works, fallen or otherwise, can bind the justice of God on the basis of strict, raw (to use Doug Wilson’s phrase) merit.
Against the via moderna (nominalism) the Reformed affirmed that the Creator/creature distinction is not so ultimate that God gracious provision in covenant could not bind the Creator’s justice on the basis of merit according to the terms of the covenant.
Now, between the poles of realism and nominalism that Reformed have found themselves on various points of the spectrum. For some of the Reformed Orthodox, the relationship of merit according to the pact can stress the law as a holy transcript of God’s holiness (bringing it into closer connection with realism… here I would place Turretin, Owen). For others, the stress is on the Scotus school of volunatism seeing God’s covenant requirments as a reflection of soverign will and free choice (here we might include David Dickson and Samuel Rutherford).
The beauty of the position is that while it enjoys aspects of the realist/intellectual and nominalist/voluntarist traditions, it is free from the speculative abuses. It is rooted in the biblical conception of covenant. God has graciously made a covenant and thus His justice is REQUIRED to bless the works He has promised to reward. “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due (Romans 4:4).” The stress here is on the covenant merit upon which the Covenant of Works would be consummated by the federal head. Therefore, we are able to speak of grace and merit in the covenant of works.
Douglas Wilson has suggested that, if Adam had stood, his DUTY would have been to give praise to God. I have no problem as long as we can equally say that his RIGHT was to the covenant blessing of consummation. It is always a creatures duty to give praise to God. Only according to the blessings of the covenant is their a right established against God’s justice.
This is no small matter. It strikes at the heart of the work of the 2nd Adam. More to come.