"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « Faith | Main | Not Coming Soon to a Seeker Sensitive Church Near you »

    John Calvin on the Covenant of Works & Grace

    truthalltime-01.jpgThe following is an excerpt from Calvin's concise summary of the Christian faith for ordinary people entitled Truth for all Time.

    When he taught that the whole law is contained in two articles, our Lord Jesus Christ declared to us clearly enough what is the real purpose of all the commandments of the Law. The first article is that we should love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, with all our soul and all our strength. The second article is that we should love our neighbor as much as we love ourself. And he has taken this interpretation from the Law itself, for the first part is found in Deuteronomy 6:5, and we see the other in Leviticus 19:18. There, then, is the standard and pattern of a holy and righteous life, and even a most perfect picture of righteousness; so that if someone expresses the Law of God in his life, he will not lack before the Lord anything of what is required of perfection. To bear this out, the God promises to those who will have carried out his Law not only the great blessings of the present life which are referred to in Leviticus 26:3-13 and Deuteronomy 28:1-14, but also the reward of eternal life (Lev. 18:5).

    On the other hand, God announces the retribution of eternal death for those who will not have accomplished by their deeds all that is commanded in this Law (Deuternomy 28:15-68). Also Moses, having made the Law known, takes heaven and earth to witness that he has just put before the people good and evil, life and death (Deut 30:19-20). But although the Law shows the path ot life, yet we have to see how it can benefit us. Of course, if our will were fully trained and disposed to obey God's will, just to know the Law would be more than enough to save us. As it is, however, our carnal and corrupt nature fights all the time, and in every way, against the Spiritual Law of God. The teaching of this Law does not improve our nature in any way at all. so it is that this same Law (which was given for salvation if it found hearers who were good and capable of keeping it) turns into something which results in sin and death. For since we are all convicted of being transgressors of the Law, the more clearly the Law reveals to us the righteousness of God, the more clearly, on the other hand, it uncovers our unrighteousness. Consequently, the more the Law catches us going further into transgression, the heavier will be the judgment of God of which it finds us guilty. The promise of eternal life being removed, all that remains for us is the curse which, by the Law, falls on us all.

    The evidence given by the Law prooves the unrighteousness and transgression of all of us. Its purpose in this, however, it not that we might fall into despair nor, being totally discouraged, that we should founder in ruin. Admittedly, the Apostle testifies that we are all condemned by the Law's judgment, so that every mouth may be closed and the entire world be found guilty before God (Rom 3:19). However, he himself teaches elsewhere that God has imprisoned all men under the power of unbelief, not in order to ruin them or let them perish, but that he might have mercy on all (Rom 11:32). Having then used the Law to tell us of our weakness and impurity, the Lord comforts us through trust in his power and mercy. And it is in Christ, his Son, that he reveals himself as being benevolent and favourably disposed to us. In the Law God only appears as the rewarder of perfect righteousness - of which we are completely bereft - and, on the other hand, as the upright and strict Judge of sins, in Christ, his face is full of grace and gentleness, and shines on miserable, unworthy sinners. For this is the admirable display of his infinite love that he gave to us: he delivered up his own son for us and, in Him, opened to us all the treasures of his mercy and goodness.

    Excerpt from Truth for all Time by John Calvin

    Posted by John on November 14, 2009 07:52 PM


    One of the fundamental errors of the Law/Gospel distinction is the notion the Law promised eternal life.

    Take this quote from Calvin above:
    "To bear this out, the God promises to those who will have carried out his Law not only the great blessings of the present life which are referred to in Leviticus 26:3-13 and Deuteronomy 28:1-14, but also the reward of eternal life (Lev. 18:5)."

    The fact is, Lev 18:5 was not offering eternal life. The Torah only spoke of earthly blessings for earthly life. That's why the Torah also never spoke of Heaven or Hell.

    Again, note what else Calvin says above:
    "On the other hand, God announces the retribution of eternal death for those who will not have accomplished by their deeds all that is commanded in this Law (Deuternomy 28:15-68)."

    Look what he quotes - about 50 verses in the Torah - yet they all refer to earthly torments, not (contrary to Calvin) "eternal death")!

    If this is true - that the Law never offered eternal life (or eternal death) - then the Law/Gospel as thesis/antithesis collapses.


    I could not disagree with you more. The Law offered life to its perfect obedience. Jesus was asked many times what people must do to have eternal life. His answer was "obey the commandments and you will live". Likewise, Jesus fulfilled the law for us by becoming perfectly obedient to it for us. The imputation of Christ's righteousness, is from what he accomplished for us in his incarnation, which is obey God's law perfectly. This is the reason we are saved and Jesus can become a perfect High Priest for us (See Heb 5: 7-10). He who was without sin became sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. This and hebrews 5 means that Christ’s full obedience to all the prescriptions of the divine law made available a perfect righteousness before the law that is imputed or reckoned to those who put their trust in him. So Christ not only bears all the law's sanctions but obeys its prescriptions. The only reason his sacrifice was acceptable was because he was sinless.

    I would strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of The Law is Not of Faith... an excellent book which goes through the OT and NT carefully to show the reality of the covenant of works.


    Thank you for your comments. The problem now is that I'm getting conflicting information, especially regarding The Law is Not of Faith. Another knowledgeable Reformed blog is saying the exact opposite of what you are and rebuking me for not reading The Law is Not of Faith which he says teaches this.

    To the question:
    Did the Mosaic Law offer eternal life?

    I receive the following answers:
    You and Calvin say: Yes
    The other Reformed blog (referencing TLINOF) says: No

    Here is the blog:

    I want to by The Law is Not of Faith, but this is pretty astonishing that two people are suggesting it yet giving me contradictory answers.


    If you read more carefully you will understand that the purpose of the law is to reveal our sin by showing us the impossibility to perfectly obeying the law. Rom 3:20 read "...through the law comes knowledge of sin.". Calvin thus said, "In the Law God only appears as the rewarder of perfect righteousness - of which we are completely bereft.

    In other words, God's commands (which the Bible plainly promises life when it says "Do this and live" in both Old and New testaments), are commands He knows very well that we are impotent to obey. The Law is merciless and does not give the grace to obey. That is why the Bible not only promises life for obedience but also says "through the law comes knowledge of sin". God commands what we are unable to do so both to reveal our moral impotence and our utter need to a Savior, who can do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves.

    Augustine this said, "God bids us do what we cannot, that we may know what we ought to seek from him." and also said "Let God give what He commands, and command what He will."

    So there is no contradiction. No one every merited life by the law, apart from what Christ did for us. The promise of life was shut off when Adam carrying the human race in his loins, fell.

    I read the book carefully and it teaches through its entirely that the Mosaic covenant, is in once sense a republication of the covenant of works, God commanding "Do this and live" But no one does it, yet God still has mercy on us.

    Otherwise Nick, consider these question, if someone obeyed the commands of God perfectly and was without sin, how could God justly punish them with eternal hell? What would he be punishing them for?


    I would also point you to another Text about the Law where Paul shows he has exactly the same idea of it in Romans 7:

    "For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death."


    Why did it not bring life... because of sin. That is why in the very next chapter (Romans 8) Paul says God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us"

    The law could not bring life BECAUSE it was weakened by the flesh. So God sent Christ who fulfilled the law in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be met in us.

    The righteous requirement of the law, we all know, is to obey it perfectly.

    As far as I can tell, what you're saying makes the most sense from the classical Reformed view: The Mosaic Law did promise eternal life to those who kept it perfectly.

    Regarding the Romans 7 quote, where Paul quotes the 10 Commandments, it is clear to me that God was promising earthly blessings for keeping his commandments. If you agree, then I don't think it's fair to impute a double meaning to "life" when Heaven is not spelled out in the OT, only the NT. I maintain that Christ's command to keep the commandments was only in light of his newly revealed "law of christ" (Gal 6), so that's why He often said "Moses said X, but I say Y."

    It may be clear to you, but Jesus himself did not seem to think that "life" in the OT was only referring to earthly blessings. When asked by a rich young ruler what must he do to gain eternal life, Jesus answered: "If you want to enter life, obey the commandments" (Matt 19:17).

    Jesus himself interprets Moses this way (as the context is ETERNAL LIFE) and so should we.The promises given to the saints in the old testament are fulfilled in Christ, and whether they knew or not about the extent of God's blessings, they are not merely some short term land promise but, together with us, they share in everlasting life because Jesus fulfilled the law for us.

    I noticed that you kept repeating your idea that OT saints "life" meant earthly blessings, a Dispensational approach to the Scripture which 2:11-21 & 3:5, utterly refutes. Also I quote The Marrow of Modern Divinity which answers this well:


    Nomista. But, sir, are you sure that this promised seed was meant of Christ?

    Evangelista. The apostle puts that out of doubt, (Gal 3:16), saying, "Now unto Abraham and to his seed were the promises made. 7 He says not—and to seeds, as of many, but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ." 8 And so no doubt but these godly patriarchs did understand it.

    Antinomista. But, sir, the great promise that was made to them, as I conceive, and which they seemed to have most regard to, was the land of Canaan.

    Evangelista. There is no doubt but that these godly patriarchs did see their heavenly inheritance [by Christ] through the promise of the land of Canaan, as the apostle testifies of Abraham, (Heb 11:9,10), saying, "He sojourned in a strange country, and looked for a city having foundations, whose builder and maker is God." "Whereby it is evident," says Calvin, [Instit. p. 204,] "that the height and eminency of Abraham's faith was the looking for an everlasting life in heaven." The like testimony he gives of Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, "All these died in the faith," 9 (Heb 11:13); implying that they did not expect to receive the fruit of the promise till after death. And, therefore in all their travails they had before their eyes the blessedness of the life to come; and which caused old Jacob to say at his death, "Lord, I have waited for thy salvation," (Gen 49:18). The which speech the Chaldee paraphrase expounds thus, "Our father Jacob said not, I expect the salvation of Gideon, son of Joash, which is a temporal salvation, nor the salvation of Samson, son of Manoah, which is a transitory salvation, but the salvation of Christ, the Son of David, who shall come, and bring unto himself the sons of Israel, whose salvation my soul desireth." And so you see that this covenant, made with Abraham in Christ, was the comfort and support of these and the rest of the godly fathers, until their departure out of Egypt.

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