Saturday, July 05, 2008

Federal Theology: The Covenant of Works

According to federal theology, the whole system of Christian doctrine hangs on the two federal (representative) heads of Adam and Christ. Biblical history is structured around the covenant with Adam, or the covenant of works, and the covenant with Christ, or the covenant of grace. Each individual's experience is only properly understood with reference to whether he is "in Adam" or "in Christ." So, I want to begin laying out this "federal scheme" by describing what is meant by the "covenant of works." Future posts may deal with the "covenant of grace."

God made a covenant with Adam in which He promised Adam justification and eternal life for perfectly fulfilling the law. Had Adam kept the law perfectly, as a federal head, He would have merited justification and eternal life for all of his posterity because they were federally united to him. I don't say that Adam was created in a state of justification and adoption, since God the judge never revokes the life-blessing of justification and because God the Father always preserves His sons and never casts them off, but Adam fell; so, he couldn't have been in a state of justification from the beginning. Therefore, it is better to say that Adam was created with the possibility of meriting justification and eternal life, but not in a state of justification or eternal life.

We're not told explicitly, but it makes sense to say that there was some period of trial or probation through which Adam had to pass in order to merit justification and eternal life. If there were no trial period, after which he would be rewarded with justification and eternal life, then he could never have functioned as "federal" or "representative" head for those who were "in him." He would be forever working to maintain present blessings, never actually able to purchase and secure any final benefits for his constituents. Thus, it is logical to conclude that there was some probationary period, the length of which is unknown, after which Adam would have merited and secured the right to justification for his posterity.

Had Adam successfully completed this probationary period, all of his posterity, who were "in him," would have been given all the benefits purchased by his merits. His children and their children after them would have had the right to justification before they were even conceived based on Adam's righteousness, and this would have guaranteed and required that God bring each of Adam's constituents into physical existence so that they could experience actual justification and eternal life. The right to justification necessarily issues in actual justification. Upon conception, they would have been immediately granted actual justification and eternal life and based on Adam's righteousness, God would have preserved those united to Adam in justification and eternal life by working perfect holiness in them forever.

However, as you know, none of this took place. Instead, the exact opposite happened. Adam sinned against the law of God. There is no need for a probationary period in which Adam would have to sin consistently over a period of time to demerit condemnation, since even a single sin against God's holy law demerits condemnation and eternal death. Adam's sin resulted in the immediate condemnation of Adam and his sin demerited the liability to condemnation and eternal death for all who are united to him as their federal head.

Therefore, upon physical conception, all of Adam's posterity is immediately cursed with actual condemnation based upon Adam's first sin (unrighteousness). Their liability to condemnation becomes actual condemnation as soon as they are conceived. This liability to condemnation legally guarantees and obligates God to bring into existence all who are represented by Adam so that they might be called to account for their act in their representative head. Though they did not act subjectively in their own existences, they acted really by virtue of Adam's legal representation on their behalf. Finally, because all who are born "in Adam" are immediately cursed with actual condemnation, they must suffer the penalty of that condemnation, which involves God cursing them by giving them over to more and more sin and to totally depraved natures which grow wise in evil and do no good whatsoever. Those who go to their graves "in Adam" and who were never transfered to the headship of Christ during this life will suffer under the penalty of eternal death in hell, which is the final consequence of Adam's first sin, of condemnation in him, and of their own actual transgressions which flow from that first sin.


  1. He's back!!!

    Praise God for the 2nd Adam, Jesus Christ!

    Definitely do a Covenant O Grace post

    heck, maybe even a covenant of creation and covenant of redemption post as well!!

    ya know...whatever you're feelin

  2. "Their liability to condemnation becomes actual condemnation as soon as they are conceived."

    Not to stir up a hornet's nest, but if condemnation is actual at conception, then what about those dying in infancy? In other words, how do you see infant death in light of federal theology?

  3. Hey John, stir away brother!

    I think federal theology actually makes infant salvation possible.

    The "liability" to condemnation only become "actual" condemnation for those who are "in Adam." Normally, everyone who is conceived is in Adam.

    However, as I hope to argue in a post on the covenant of grace, if Christ lived, died, and rose again for a person, as He did for all of the elect, then that person has a "right" to justification rather than a "liability" to condemnation. That person was chosen "in Christ" and died "with Christ," having been reconciled (past tense) by the cross. And, someone who is conceived with such a "right" to justification, but dies prior to birth or in infancy, must be justified by virtue of the righteousness of Christ, even though he never believed.

    With Edwards, I would argue that faith is a naturally fit qualification for justification (not morally fit; since only perfect holiness is a morally fit qualification for justification).

    I would also argue that faith is not a naturally fit qualification for justification in those who do not have the natural capacity to believe. In other words, it only makes sense for it to be a naturally fit qualification if a person has a natural capacity for it. For the elect who die, lacking the natural capacity to believe, God would freely and immediately grant them justification because such have a "right" to justification.

  4. I don't say that Adam was created in a state of justification and adoption, since God the judge never revokes the life-blessing of justification and because God the Father always preserves His sons and never casts them off

    Hum, I hadn't thought in those categories. I don't think Adam would have, pre-fall, needed justification. That is a legal statement pronounced against a guilty person. Adam didn't stand in justification but innocence. And he didn't need to be adopted, he was God's son at that point (Luke 3:38).

    I also hesitate at saying that he merited eternal life since he had it. He didn't need to earn it as much as remain in it.

    He would be forever working to maintain present blessings, never actually able to purchase and secure any final benefits for his constituents.

    Good point. Will have to ponder how that fits in.

    Surprising that this post is almost a month old and no FVists have made any comments!

  5. Hey Tim! Always good to hear from you brother.

    1. In its simplest terms, justification is a verdict of "righteous," which issues in the title to "eternal life" (Rom 5:18; Tit 3:7, etc). No justification, no eternal life. Thus, Adam had to be justified to have eternal life since the two are linked in Scripture.

    Furthermore, the meritoriously righteous are justified in a court of law, not merely the guilty. Positively righteous law keepers can be examined at court and declared "not guilty" and "righteous" according to the terms of the law. Christ was justified in that sense in 1 Tim 3:16.

    2. Gen 3:22 indicates that Adam did not have eternal life from creation, since if he had it, he would have lived forever. Eternal life was Adam's eschatological hope, which is what the tree of life signified. Adam anticipated his eschatological glorification.

    Genesis 3:22, "22 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever."

    Scripture teaches that those who have eternal life cannot perish (Jn 3:16). Adam perished; therefore, Adam must not have had eternal life (which is both a quality and quantity of life).

    3. Adam was not a son, since a "son remains" in the house forever (Jn 8:35). Sons can never be cast off, lost, or condemned. God's sons are full heirs of the future inheritance (Gal 4:7). In his state of innocence, Adam was not that, since Adam sinned and was condemned unto death. Thus, the text you cite, Luke 3:38, either (1) uses the term "son" loosely, in the sense that God created Adam or (2) refers to the redeemed Adam, not the innocent Adam. I think the 1st option is the most likely, given the context.

    FVists have not responded because my blog isn't important like yours. ;) Blog on bro.


  6. I'm going to go comment on Doug Wilson's blog and link here and say that you called all FVists heretics! That'll drive some traffic your way.

    And my blog important? This is Tim Etherington not Tim Challies. :)

    Let me digest your comments above some before I say anything more. I often find your theology compelling.