The fifth reason it was important to Kline to recognize the works principle in the Mosaic economy is that without it we have a less secure exegetical basis for the Reformational emphasis on the pedagogical use of the law. Defining the Mosaic law in purely gracious terms effectively annuls the pedagogical use of the law, that is, the law’s function of showing us our inability and convicting us of our guilt.
“By exhibiting dramatically the situation of all mankind, fallen in and with Adam in the original probation in Eden, the tragic history of Israel under its covenant-of-works probation served to convict all of their sinful, hopeless estate. The Law thus drove men to Christ that they might be justified by faith. All were shut up in disobedience that God might have mercy on all (Rom 11:28-36; Gal 3:19-25)” (GHHM 128-29).
“In addition to calling attention to the probationary aspect of Jesus’ mission, the works principle that governed the Israelite kingdom acted as the schoolmaster for Israel, convicting of sin and total inability to satisfy the Lord’s righteous demands and thereby driving the sinner to the grace of God offered in the underlying gospel promises of the Abrahamic Covenant” (KP 353).
Did the Mosaic law demand obedience as the legal basis of obtaining life (Lev 18:5), or is that only a Jewish misunderstanding of the law? If the latter, one cannot make sense of the teaching of Paul that the Mosaic law-covenant was Israel’s “pedagogue unto Christ” (Gal 3:24). One could try to get around this by claiming that it is not the Mosaic covenant but the universally-binding, trans-historical “moral law” that has this pedagogical function. But Paul has already blocked that move by defining what he means by “the law” (ὁ νόμος) in the context: it is the specific covenant that came 430 years after the Abrahamic promise (Gal 3:17); it is the historical expression of the law accompanied by the threat of a curse to the disobedient (Gal 3:10 quoting Deut 27:26) and a promise of life to the doers of the law (Gal 3:12 quoting Lev 18:5); it is the temporary guardian set over the minor children (Israel) “until the date set by the father” (Gal 4:1-2). Of course, there is universal application of this pedagogical function, even for Gentiles, as the Spirit uses the law to convince us of our inability to keep it, but the original reference is to the historical Mosaic covenant and its pedagogical role in redemptive history.
Kline gets unfairly criticized for his understanding of the Mosaic covenant. His motive was not to be an innovator but to listen carefully to Paul’s teaching on the law and thereby provide better exegetical and biblical-theological support for the Reformation insight concerning the pedagogical use of the law.
Recognizing the works principle in the Mosaic economy enables one to see more clearly that the works principle is the bedrock judicial foundation of the gospel. As Kline put it so crisply: “Heaven must be earned” (KP 107). That is not a principle that God does away with in the gospel. Rather, he upholds it precisely through the gospel.
“Law is thus foundational to gospel; gospel-grace honors the demands of divine justice as definitively expressed in law covenant. In Rom 3:31 Paul makes this point forcefully: ‘Do we then make the law of none effect through faith? God forbid; nay we establish the law.’ The apostle is not concerned here with the normative nature of the Mosaic laws but with the law as a covenant governed by the principle of works in contrast to the gospel with its principle of grace. And even though he is arguing that we are justified not by works but by grace through faith, he insists emphatically on the continuing validity of the works principle as foundational to the gospel order. It is by the obedience of the one that the many are made righteous (Rom 5:19)” (GOM 237).
Grace is not that God lowers the standard to let us in to heaven despite his justice. Grace is that God provides a substitute who satisfies the just demands of the law in our place. That is why Paul says we “establish the (Mosaic) law” through the gospel (Rom 3:31). He can say that because he understands the Mosaic law fundamentally in terms of the works principle (Lev 18:5). Although we are righteous not by our own works done in obedience to the law, but by faith in Christ, Paul nevertheless “insists emphatically on the continuing validity of the works principle as foundational to the gospel order.” Because Christ was born under the law and perfectly fulfilled it, faith in Christ actually upholds the law.
Grasping the works principle in the Mosaic economy is crucial for a proper appreciation of the work of Christ, since the Mosaic law provided the historical context for the work of Christ, the fulfiller of the law. To explain this point, Kline relies heavily on Gal 4:4 where Paul says that Christ was “born of a woman, born under the law”:
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5 NKJV).
Kline sees deep significance in Gal 4:4 since it ties together all three key points where the works principle is present: Adam, Israel, Christ. The first phrase, “born of a woman,” alludes to his universal role as the second Adam. The next phrase, “born under the law,” alludes to his particular historical identity as the true Israel. But there is “congruence” (KP 352) between the two. The recapitulation of the Adamic covenant of works in the Mosaic economy is intended precisely to set the context for Christ’s incarnation so that his identity as the true, obedient Israel might be understood as pointing to his more fundamental identity as the second Adam who passes the probation and earns the eternal reward for those whom he represents.
“The function of probationer that Christ assumed as the true Israel-Servant was more basically his in terms of his identity as second Adam (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:45–47). [Note: In Gal 4:4, ‘born under the law’ identifies Christ as the second Israel, under the Torah covenant. ‘Born of a woman’ brings out his humanity and so suggests his second Adam status.] ... As advertised by his birth under the Torah covenant of works (Gal 4:4), Christ came to earth as one under the intratrinitarian covenant of works” (GOM 237 and 240 n33).
In Kingdom Prologue, Kline has another passage where he make this point under the heading “The Design of the Typal Kingdom.” This is my favorite Kline quote of all time:
“A variety of purposes can be discovered to explain the insertion of the old covenant order and its typal kingdom into the course of redemptive history. Of central importance was the creation of the proper historical setting for the advent of the Son of God and his earthly mission (cf. Rom 9:5). In accordance with the terms of his covenant of works with the Father he was to come as the second Adam in order to undergo a representative probation and by his obedient and triumphant accomplishment thereof to establish the legal ground for God’s covenanted bestowal of the eternal kingdom of salvation on his people. It was therefore expedient, if not necessary, that Christ appear within a covenant order which, like the covenant with the first Adam, was governed by the works principle (cf. Gal 4:4). The typal kingdom of the old covenant was precisely that. Within the limitations of the fallen world and with modifications peculiar to the redemptive process, the old theocratic kingdom was a reproduction of the original covenantal order. Israel as the theocratic nation was mankind stationed once again in a paradise-sanctuary, under probation in a covenant of works. In the context of that situation, the Incarnation event was legible; apart from it the meaning of the appearing and ministry of the Son of Man would hardly have been perspicuous. Because of the congruence between Jesus’ particular historical identity as the true Israel, born under the law, and his universally relevant role as the second Adam, the significance of his mission as the accomplishing of a probationary assignment in a works covenant in behalf of the elect of all ages was lucidly expressed and readily readable” (KP 352).
Conversely, denying the works principle in the Mosaic law will make it harder to see Christ’s work as a meritorious fulfilling of the law in our place in order to earn heaven for us.
The second reason it was important to Kline to recognize a works principle in the Mosaic covenant is that failure to do so will make the biblical theologian less likely to recognize a works principle in other covenants, specifically the pre-Fall covenant with Adam and the pre-temporal covenant between the Father and the Son, aka, the pactum salutis.
“Rejection of the works principle in the old covenant tends to degenerate into a more general denial of the possibility of merit in the religious relationship and thus to a rejection of the principle of works in the original creation covenant with Adam” (“Gospel until the Law,” 435).
For example, Daniel Fuller and Norman Shepherd took their denial of the law-gospel contrast to this next step, denying that God ever relates to humans on the basis of a works-principle, thereby denying the Adamic covenant of works and the merit of Christ.
“The very idea of merit is foreign to the way in which God our Father relates to his children” (Norman Shepherd, The Call of Grace, 39).
This is not a tight law of necessity. It is not as if all who reject Kline’s particular formulation of the works principle in the Mosaic economy are necessarily bound to reject the works principle in the Creator’s covenant of works with the first Adam or in the Father’s covenant of works with Christ as the second Adam. But there is a tendency in that direction – and the reason for this is biblical-theological. Paul views the obedience of Christ in terms of the fulfillment of the Mosaic law (Rom 3:31; 10:4; Gal 4:4). There are strong biblical theological linkages from Adam to corporate Israel, and from corporate Israel to Christ. The latter connection is strongly present in Matthew’s Gospel, for example (Matt 1–4). When Paul wants to articulate the works principle as the key presupposition of his doctrine of justification, he quotes the works principle, not as found in the Adamic covenant, but as found in the Mosaic law (Lev 18:5). Thus, the biblical theologian who does not recognize the works principle in the Mosaic economy is less likely to be able to recognize it anywhere else.
If the very idea of merit is rejected in principle, then we must also reject the idea that the obedience of Christ was meritorious. Denying merit is like removing a load-bearing Jenga stick. Remove that one piece and the whole superstructure crumbles.