Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.—Rom. 8.33

[Therapeutica Sacra: Chapter 5: Of the Covenant of Works. By David Dickson.]
S   A   C   R   A;
Shewing briefly
The method of healing the diseases of
the Conscience, concerning
R E G E N E R A T I O N:
Written first in Latine
D A V I D   D I C K S O N,
Professor of DIVINITY in the
Colledge of Edinburgh,
And thereafter Translated by him.

Matth. 9.12.
They that be whole need not a Physician,
but they that are sick.

E D I N B U R G H,
Printed by Evan Tyler, Printer to the King’s
most Excellent Majesty, 1664.


Of the Covenant of Works.

WE have spoken of the first divine covenant, wherein God, and God incarnate are the parties; it followeth to speak of the next divine covenant, to wit, the covenant of works between God and man, Adam and his posterity, made in man's integrity. In which covenant, God is only the one party of the covenant, and man created with all natural perfections, is the other party. In this covenant, man's continuing in a happy life, is promised, upon condition of perfect personal obedience, to be done by him out of his own natural strength bestowed upon him, as the Apostle teacheth us, Gal. 3.12, the Law is not of faith, but the man who shall do these things shall live by them. And unto this law or covenant of works, is added a threatening of death in case man should transgress: the sense whereof is told by the Apostle, Gal. 3.10, cursed is every one who doth not abide in all things, that are written in the book of the Law to do them.

The difference between the law, and the Covenant of Works.

THE word Law, is sometimes taken for the matter or substance of the law of nature, written in the hearts of our first Parents by creation; the work of which law, is to be found in the hearts of their posterity unto this day. And in this sense the word Law, is taken by the Apostle, Rom. 2.15, the Gentiles (saith he) shew the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience {72} also bearing witness, &c. Sometimes the word, is taken for the formal covenant of works, as Gal. 3.10, as many as are of the works of the Law, that is, under the covenant of works, are under the curse; for, it is written, cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written, in the book of the law, to do them.

2. The law as it is taken for the covenant of works, differeth from the law of nature, written by creation in the hearts of our first Parents; first, because the law of nature, written in the heart of man, in order both of nature, and time, went before the covenant made for keeping that law; because the covenant for keeping that law, was not made till after man's creation, and after his bringing into the garden to dress it and to keep it, Gen. 2.16,17.

Secondly, God by virtue of the law written in man's heart, did not oblige Himself to perpetuate man's happy life: for, albeit man had kept that law most accurately, God was free to dispose of Him as he saw fit before he made the covenant with him; But so soon as he made the covenant, he obliged himself to preserve him in a happy life, so long as he should go on in obedience to his law and commands, according to the tenor of the covenant, do this and live.

Thirdly, death was the natural wages and merit of sin, albeit there had no covenant been made at all: for, sin against God, deserveth, of its own nature, death of soul and body, by the rule of simple justice, whether the sinner had consented to the punishment or not. But man by entering in the covenant actually gave a formal voluntary consent, that death should seize upon him, if he should sin, as Evah beareth witness in her conference with the serpent, while she doth repeat the condition put upon the breaking of the particular command given by God, and accepted by man, Gen. 3.3.

Fourthly, when the covenant of works is abolished so far, as it can neither justify, nor condemn the man that is fled to Christ, and entered in another posterior {73} covenant of grace, the natural obligation of the man standeth still, for taking direction from, and giving obedience to, the law; for, it remaineth still the rule of a man's walking, and it is impossible that a mere man should be exeemed [exempted] from the authority of God over him, and from subjection due by nature to his Creator: for upon this account, that man is a reasonable creature, understanding God's will about his behaviour toward God, he is always bound for ever to love God with all his mind, heart, and strength, and his neighbour as himself. Neither can the natural merit of sin be taken away, nor death deserved be eschewed but by forgiveness of it for Christ's merits.

The covenant then was superadded unto the law in the deep wisdom of God: for, this way of dealing with man by a Covenant, was, of its own nature, a most fit mean unto man's felicity, and unto the glory of God.

How the Covenant of God with man was a mean to man's felicity.

THE Covenanting of God with man, tended of its own nature to man's good and happiness.

First, because a singular respect and honour was put upon man, when he was made a confederate friend of God: for, if it be an honour to a mean and poor man to be joined with a King or Prince in a formal bond of mutual friendship, how much greater honour is it unto man, to be joined in a bond of mutual love and friendship with God?

Secondly, before the making of the Covenant, man had no promise made to him by God, but so soon as the Covenant was made, the Lord did freely oblige himself to give, and made to man a right to ask, and to expect of God, with a ground of certainty, to obtain of him such things, as without promise past, he could not ask, or at least, he could not certainly expect to have granted unto him. {74}

Thirdly, before the making of the Covenant, nothing hindered the Lord, if he had pleased, to command man to return to dust whereof he was; but after the Covenant, it pleased God, by his own free promise, to oblige himself to perpetuate man's happiness wherein he was made, so long as he should go on in obedience.

Fourthly, by the making of the Covenant, a door was opened, and a fair entry to a higher degree of felicity than he possessed by his creation: for, when a natural life and earthly felicity was given to Adam to enjoy upon the earth, God, by the Covenant, made paction with him upon condition of perfect obedience, to give him a life and felicity supernatural, opposite unto death bodily and spiritual, which was threatened unto him if he should transgress the command.

Fifthly, Adam, by the Covenant, had a sort of help to make him keep the Law written in his heart more carefully and cautiously, and a prop to make him stand more fixed: for, on the one hand, he was advertised and forewarned of the danger of sinning, that he might beware to offend God; and on the other hand, he was encouraged and allowed to serve God more cheerfully, and to perform due obedience to God the more diligently: for, in the Covenant, the greatest reward that could be thought upon was set before him, and promised unto him; to wit, eternal life upon his obedience, and the greatest punishment threatened if he should disobey; both which served greatly to move him to be constant in his obedience.

How God's covenanting with man served for God's glory.

IN God's covenanting with man, his glory did notably shine and shew forth itself to man. First, the goodness and bounty of God, did manifest itself therein: for, in making a Covenant with man, the Lord demitted himself, and in a manner humbled himself to deal with man for the standing of mutual friendship between himself {75} and man forever: and when we consider this, as the Psalmist saith, Psalm 8.4, What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that thou visitest him? So may we say, what is man? or the Son of man, that thou shouldest enter in covenant with him?

Secondly, by covenanting with man, God did show his wonderful moderation: for, God is sovereign Monarch and absolute Emperour over his own creature, to make of it what he pleaseth; yet, in covenanting with man, he did sweetly temper his supremacy, seeking, as it were, to reign with man's consent. And when because of his sovereign Authority and absolute Right and Interest, he might have put upon man harder commands and conditions of the Covenant, and these also altogether righteous and just, he choosed to use such moderation, that he would require nothing of man, except that which man should, and behoved in reason judge both a just and an easy yoke, and in accepting the condition of the Covenant, acknowledge it to be such.

Thirdly, the Lord declared his wisdom in covenanting with man, because when he had made man a reasonable creature, he choosed to draw forth a free and voluntary service, most suitable to his reasonable nature, and that in a most sweet way; to wit, not only by giving unto man a most equitable Law, but also by setting before the man, by way of paction, the highest reward that he could be capable of, even life everlasting.

Fourthly, in covenanting with man, God did most wisely and holily have a respect to the glory of his own, both sovereignty and holiness; because after he had made man by nature good and holy (albeit mutable and subject to change, if the man pleased to essay another way) he took course to help the mutability of his free will, not only by setting a reward of obedience before him, but also by a threatening of punishment, if he should transgress, and so on the one hand and the {76} other to hedge him in, and guard him against all temptation unto sin, that neither he should be forced by any external power to sin, nor by any counsel or suggestion or moral swasion (whereunto only man was exposed in the trial of his obedience) should have so strong motives to draw him to disobedience, as the promise of God and the threatening should have force in all reason, to keep him fast to his due and loyal obedience. Thus was Adam fore-warned and fore-armed against whatsoever, without himself, might assault him: for, what reward for disobedience could be offered unto him, so great as the favour of God and everlasting life in the fellowship of God promised to him, if he continued fast in obedience? and what terror could be so great to affright and scare him from sin, as the threatening of death bodily and spiritual, if he transgressed?

Question. But the profane curiosity of man dareth to ask a reason, why God did not make man both good by nature and immutably good also?

Answer. It is indeed proud curiosity to enquire for reasons of God's holy will, which hath its own most sufficient reason in itself, and may satisfy all his subjects, who will not devilishly prefer their own wisdom and counsel to his: But we shall content ourselves soberly to answer the question thus; To be both originally, or by nature good, and unchangeably good also, beseemeth God himself only, as his property and prerogative, which it became his Majesty to reserve to himself as the fountain of all goodness, and not to communicate this glory either to Man or Angel in their creation, that the due distance between God and the natural perfections of the creature, should not only be provided for, but made manifest to the creature also. It's true, Christ's human nature, was so sanctified in his conception, that there was no possibility that sin should be in it; but let us consider, that Christ's person which did assume the human nature into personal union with his God-head, is not a creature; and to assume the {77} human nature into a personal union with his divine nature, is the proper privilege of God over all, blessed for ever. And what the human nature of Christ hath of holiness, it hath it not of itself, but of grace from the second person of the God-head, who did assume it. And the Angels that stood when the mutability of angelical nature was manifested in the fall of many of them, did stand by the grace of free confirmation of them in their station.

Fifthly, God in covenanting with man, made way for the demonstration of his most holy justice in the execution of punishment, which was not only the natural wages and deserved reward of sin, but also by paction and covenant appointed by mutual consent of parties, if man, so much obliged to God, should break so equitable and easy a command, as was given to try him by, being fore-warned of his danger.

Sixthly, this way of covenanting with man, was a most holy and fit means to manifest the vanity and instability of the most perfect creature, except in the exercise of all its abilities and habits, it did acknowledge God, and in every thing less and more, constantly employ him, and depend upon him.

Last of all, this was a most holy mean to bring forth to light the grace and mercy of God in Christ, providing a remedy for fallen man before he fell, and to open up the decree and covenant of Redemption in due time to be brought about by Christ, to the glory of God in Christ, by whom, and for whom all things were made, Col. 1.16.

Question. Had this Covenant of works no Mediatour, no Surety engaged for Adam and all his posterity?

Answer. No Mediatour was in this Covenant; for, the party on the one hand, was God, and on the other hand was Adam and Eve our common parents, standing upon the ground of their natural abilities, representing and comprehending all their natural offspring; and according to the condition of the Covenant in their {78} own name and name of their posterity, promising obedience, and receiving the condition of life if they continued, and of death in case they failed, Gen. 2.17, in whose sin we all have sinned, Rom. 5.12.

Now, the necessity of a Mediatour, did not appear in this Covenant so long as it stood, that afterward in the making of another Covenant it might more timeously appear. First, because man, being created holy according to the image of God, was the friend of God while he had not sinned; and again his service, while he stood in obedience, was very pleasant and acceptable to God, because so long freely and sincerely he served God according to the command and rule written in his heart.

Question. After that this Covenant was broken, was it not abolished altogether, seeing it could not now be any longer perfectly obeyed, nor save us who are sinners?

Answer. Albeit this Covenant, being broken on man's part, did become weak and utterly unable to produce Justification by works, or eternal life to us, by our inherent righteousness; yet, on God's part, the bond of this Covenant, doth stand firm and strong against all men by nature for their condemnation, who are not reconciled to God: Wherefore all that are not renewed and made friends with God by another Covenant of faith in God incarnate (the seed of the woman, who destroyeth the work of the devil) do lie bound under the bond of this Covenant of works, as Christ testifies, John 3.18, He that believeth on me, is not condemned; but he that believeth not, is condemned already; to wit, by the force of the Covenant of works violated by them, and are not delivered from the curse by Christ the Son of God, till they fly to him: And this doth the Apostle confess, speaking of himself and other elect Jews before their regeneration, Ephes. 2.3, We also were children of wrath, even as others: for whosoever is not reconciled to God by Christ, against him doth {79} the sentence of the Law, and curse for violation of the Covenant, stand in force; for, sinning against the Covenant, doth not loose the man from the Covenant, neither from the obligation to obey it, nor from the punishment of breaking it.

Objection. But seeing man is utterly unable to obey the Law, or to keep that Covenant, doth not his utter inability excuse him and dissolve that bond?

Answer. No ways: Because that inability is the fruit of our sin, and is drawn on by ourselves; nor doth God lose his right to crave the debt to him, because the Bankrupt is not able to pay what he oweth: For, even among men, such as have mis-spent their patrimony, are not absolved of their debt because they are not able to pay the debt; yea, even the children of the mis-spender of his goods, do stand debtors so long as the debt is neither paid nor forgiven.

The Covenant of works therefore being broken, the obligation standeth, to make us give obedience so much the more in time to come, and because of the curse pronounced for the breaking of the Covenant in time past, the obligation to under-lie the punishment for by-gone sins doth stand; and so both the obligation to under-lie the punishment, and the obligation to give obedience, do stand together, while a man is not absolved from the Covenant of works, by entering in a new Covenant, whereby the debt is paid and the sinner absolved.

Whoever then conceive, that they may be justified from by-gone sins by their own obedience in time to come, either by way of doing or of suffering, they but deceive themselves, dreaming they can do impossibilities; for, the punishment to be suffered for sin by the sinner, is the curse-everlasting of soul and body, seeing a mere creature cannot forever satisfy for his rebellion, how long soever we presuppose his duration under suffering. And for obedience by way of doing perfectly what the Law doth crave, it is utterly impossible, because {80} we are carnal, sold under sin, and cannot satisfy the Law; and because we cannot satisfy the Law, the Law becometh weak and unable to justify and save us, Rom. 8.3.

How the Covenant of Works may be called the Covenant of Nature.

ALBEIT the Law written by nature in men's heart, differeth from the Covenant for performance of the Law, as hath been shown before; yet, the Covenant of works made with Adam before he fell, tying him to keep that Law, may be called the Covenant of Nature.

First, because the Covenant of works is grounded upon the Law of nature, and doth exact nothing of man, save that which God might require of him according to the Law of nature.

Secondly, because when the Covenant of works was made with Adam, it was made with all his natural posterity, which was to spring of him by natural generation; and so the obligation thereof did pass upon all his natural posterity, by the Law of nature, which maketh the child begotten to bear the image of the begetters.

Thirdly, that the Covenant of works may justly be called the Covenant of nature, appeareth by the force of the conscience being wakened from its sleepy security; for, it challengeth for sin according to that Covenant, and pronounceth the sentence of God's wrath against the sinner: For, the conscience doth acknowledge the Judgment of God, that they which commit such things, are worthy of death, Rom. 1.32.

Fourthly, because the conscience naturally inclineth a man to seek justification by his own works, if it can any way find pretence for it, as we may see in the Pharisee, who in his speech to God, doth judge himself a holy man, because he is not amongst the worst of men, and hath many good works above others to reckon forth and lay before God, Luke 18.11. {81}

Fifthly, the inclination of man's heart, to expect a reward of every good work he doth, whether it be in some part real, or only apparently such, testifieth so much, Judges 17.13, Micah reasoneth, Now know I the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my Priest. And how miserably the conscience may be deluded in this case, when men do dote upon their own well-deserving, appeareth in Leah: for, Gen. 30.18, Leah saith, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband.

Sixthly, this point is also made manifest by the natural ignorance of righteousness by faith, and affectation to be justified by works, which the Apostle finds fault with in the Israelites, Rom. 9.31, They sought righteousness not by faith, but as it were by works: And, Rom. 10.3, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and going about to establish their own righteousness (to wit, righteousness by works, according to the tenour of the Covenant of works) they did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God.

Seventhly, the same course followed by Papists and other erroneous teachers, testifieth the natural inclination of men to seek righteousness by works according to the tenour of the Covenant of works, and not by faith in Christ Jesus, that righteousness may come by grace only: And so are some men's hearts glued to this error, that they do transform justification by faith in[to] justification by one work instead of all, as if the work of faith were the man's righteousness, and not Christ himself laid hold on by faith: Not considering, that to the man that renounceth all confidence in any work of his own, and flieth to Christ by faith, Christ is made of God unto that man wisdom and righteousness, 1 Cor. 1.30.

Last of all, this natural inclination, even of the regenerate, to seek righteousness by works, doth prove the Covenant of works to be naturally ingraft in all men's hearts, as appeareth in the Galatians, who being instructed in the doctrine of justification by faith in {82} Christ without the works of the Law, did easily upon a tentation offered, look back, with liking, to the way of Justification by works, for which the Apostle reproveth them, Gal. 4.21, Tell me (saith he) ye that desire to be under the Law, or Covenant of works; and verse 9, But now after ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to weak and beggarly elements, whereunto you desire again to be in bondage?

Objection. But, the Galatians as it seemeth, did not reject Justification by faith, but did join with it Justification by the works of the Law, thinking that the safest way was to join both together.

Answer. The inconsistency of these two ways of Justification, the Apostle sheweth, Rom. 11.6. For, Justification by grace, is no more by works, otherwise grace is no more grace, and what Justification is by works, is no more of grace, otherwise work is no more work. And therefore, the Apostle makes the joining of these two ways of Justification to be nothing else but a plain seeking of Justification by the Covenant of works, which cutteth a man off from any benefit by Christ, Gal. 5.2, and whosoever seeketh to be justified by the Law, or Covenant of works, is fallen from grace, verse 4.

For further clearing this matter, we may distinguish two sorts of the Covenant of works: The one is true, genuine, and of God's institution, which God made with all men in Adam, for perfect obedience unto God's Law, out of man's own natural abilities. There is another counterfeit, bastard covenant of works, of man's own devising, which a sinner, lying in his sins (unable to do what the Law commands, or to suffer what the Law being broken binds upon him) of his own head deviseth, upon other conditions than God hath set, and will have God to take his devised covenant instead of perfect obedience to the Law, that so he may be justified. Such was the covenant, which the carnal Israelites made with God in the wilderness, and {83} which their posterity did follow, turning the Covenant of grace, whereunto God was calling them, into a covenant of works of their own framing: For, the grace which was offered to them in Christ under the veil of Levitical types, figures, and ceremonies, they turned into an external service of performance only of bare and dead ceremonies, and into a ministry of the letter and death; for they did not take up Christ to be the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believes in him, but did think, that both the moral and ceremonial Law was given unto them of God, to the intent that they should do the external works of the moral Law, so far as they could; and when they transgressed the moral Law, they should fly to the ceremonial Law, and make amends for their faults by satisfying for their sin by the external sacrifice of some clean beast offered to God, or by the washing of their body, and their clothes. Such also is the covenant, which nowadays many make with God, cutting short, with the old Pharisees, the sense of the precepts of the Law, by extending it no further than they may keep the same, that so they may make their own inherent righteousness the longer, & conform unto their own clipped rule of righteousness: and this they do by denying themselves to be guilty of original sin after baptism, and by extenuating and diminishing many faults, as but light and venial as they call them, and by devising satisfactions for expiating the sins of the living, by penances and pilgrimages, and of the dead by their sufferings in their imaginary purgatory, that so they may be justified by their works and sufferings. Such also in their covenant, who seek justification by deceased Saints' merits, hoping they may so have absolution from sin, and obtain life eternal. And all these sorts of covenants of men's framing, we call bastard-covenants of works, because God will not admit any other Covenant of works than that which requireth perfect personal obedience. And therefore so many as seek to be justified by works, do stand under {84} the obligation of perfect personal obedience under pain of death, and will be found not only utterly unable to do any good work, but also to be without Christ, and to be fallen from grace, as the Apostle (Gal. 5.3,4,) doth teach us.

Objection. Seeing God doth abhor these bastard-covenants of works, and doth well know, that men are so far from performance of the due obedience of the Law, that they are utterly unable before they be reconciled through faith in Christ, to do so much as one acceptable work, as the Psalmist teacheth, Psalm 14.1-3, Why doth the Lord exact perfect obedience unto the Law from sinners? why doth he press so instantly the slaves of sin to perform the duties required in the true Covenant of works?

Answer. The Lord justly doth abhor and reject these bastard-covenants, because they evacuate and make void both the Covenant of works and the Covenant of grace which is by faith in Christ; and he doth press all men to perform perfect obedience to all the commands whereunto they are naturally obliged, to the end that proud men, conceited of their own natural abilities, may find by experience, that they are unable to perform the condition of the Covenant of works, and may acknowledge the same, and so despair of righteousness by their works, and be forced to fly to Christ, and to the Covenant of grace through him, that they may be freed from that covenant; and being justified by faith in Christ, may be enabled to begin new obedience to the Law in the strength of Christ's furniture: For, Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth, Rom. 10.4. And the Law entered, that men might by the Law see and acknowledge that the offence did abound, and then might perceive, that the riches of grace by Christ, did super-abound, Rom. 5.20,21, and 1 Tim. 1.5: The end of the command, is love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience and faith unfeigned. {85}

This was the end of the promulgation of the Law in mount Sinai, that a stiff-necked people trusting in their own abilities, might be made sensible of their imperfection, by the repetition of the Law. And to this also God super-added the external yoke of the ceremonial Law, which neither they nor their posterity were able to bear, Acts 15.10, that the people perceiving their manifold pollutions and guiltiness, wherein they were daily involved by breaking of God's Law: might in the sense of the burden lying on them, and of their damnable estate under it, fly to Christ the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, as he was represented and offered to their sight in the sacrifices and burn offerings.

Of this end of pressing the Law upon proud men, we have an example, Matth. 19.16-22. In the conference of Christ with the young conceited rich man, who in the opinion of his own inherent righteousness, and of his abilities, was hugely swelled, as if he had already for time by-gone satisfied the whole Law, and that he was able and ready to do any good work which could be prescribed unto him, for obtaining of eternal life; whose proud conceit that Christ might humble and bring down, he craveth nothing but that he would keep the commands: And when the young man denied that he had broken the Law, he proveth him guilty of gross and vile Idolatry, from this, that he put a higher estimation on his riches than on the remission of sin, and did love them more than heaven and fellowship with God in eternal life.

In all this let it be considered, that albeit men's confidence in their works, doth displease God; yet good works do not displease him, but they are so far pleasant unto him, that there is no moral motive which may serve to stir up in his people, an endeavour to follow after good works, which the Lord doth not make use of; partly, by setting before them the reward if they obey; partly, by setting punishments before their {86} eyes if they obey not: yea, and the very observation of external moral duties and obedience, such as may be discharged by the unregenerate man (albeit God in relation to Justification do esteem it polluted and vile) yet he doth sometimes reward their external works by giving them external and temporal benefits for their encouragement: for, even Ahab's temporary humiliation the Lord so far accepted, that thereupon He took occasion to delay to take vengeance upon him, 1 Kings 21.27-29. Likewise the Lord useth to recompence the civil justice of Pagans with a temporal reward, yea and to reward the outward diligence of every man in every lawful occupation, with some answerable outward reward.

The very Pharisees, who for the raising to themselves a fame and higher estimation for holiness, did take a great deal of pains, in prayers in the streets and Marketplaces, and other exercises of Religion, wanted not an answerable reward; verily (saith Christ) they have their reward, Matth. 6.2.

And this course the Lord doth keep, that he may entertain and foster the civil society of men among themselves, and that His people looking on this bounty of God, may be stirred up the more to bring forth the fruits of faith, in hope of a merciful promised better reward of grace in the life to come, beside what they may have in this life.